Maria Flores went missing in Hinesville, Georgia on May 20. (Courtesy Photo)

Maria Flores went missing in Hinesville, Georgia on May 20. (Courtesy Photo)

‘I have to find her’: Local women raise money to search for missing daughter

The 17-year old went missing in Georgia in May

The last time anyone saw Marie Flores was May 20. But her mother and grandmother, separated by thousands of miles from Juneau to Georgia, didn’t learn until Aug. 14, when a churchgoer saw Flores on a missing poster and contacted them here.

Now, her mother and grandmother are scraping together funds to go to Georgia to look for Flores, and answers.

“We’re worried about Maria,” said Val Cooday, Flores’ grandmother. “She has no job, no assets, no income. She’s very vulnerable and she just vanished.”

Born in Juneau, Maria moved to Georgia with her mother and stepfather when she was very young.

“Maria is a member of Tlingit tribe here in Juneau,” Cooday said in an interview Friday.

Maria Flores went missing in Hinesville, Georgia on May 20. (Courtesy Photo)

Maria Flores went missing in Hinesville, Georgia on May 20. (Courtesy Photo)

Flores was living in Hinesville, Georgia, outside of Ft. Stewart, where her stepfather Erin Smith was stationed. When her parents divorced, Flores stayed with Smith to watch out for her three younger stepsiblings, said Cooday.

She went to school with a younger sibling that day, but said that she’d catch a ride home with her boyfriend, who asked not to be named. Flores and he were looking at colleges together, Cooday said.

“He’s been very helpful,” said Flores’ mother, Yemisi Smith.

The boyfriend said she never showed up that afternoon, said Cooday. The last anyone has heard from Flores was when she called the boyfriend on the morning of May 20.

Erin and his wife Alba Smith, along with their three other children, moved to El Paso, Texas in June, where he was stationed at Ft. Bliss, according to Cooday. There has been no sign of Flores on any social media accounts since May 20, said Cooday.

Smith said they’ve talked to the Hinesville Police Department and get everyone on the same page as the police investigate the case. The police posted a missing persons alert on their Facebook page on May 30.

“They were able to get everything caught up with some of the information we had gathered, following some leads,” said Smith.

Smith and Cooday said they’ve done everything they can, leveraging social media to turn over stones where possible. They’ve reached out on Facebook and Instagram, asking for information, and started a fundraiser to help them get down to Georgia to look for themselves.

“We’re just trying to get this out there,” said Cooday. “The more public this becomes, the harder to hide her it is.”

Smith intends to take the trip to Georgia to walk the ground herself, talk to people, and look for Flores.

“I want to know where she could have went,” Smith said. “There has to be something. I have to find her.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or

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