Fifteen-year-old José Veloso was missing for three months.

He slipped out the bedroom window of his grandparents’ Reston, Va., home at two in the morning on Saturday, May 7, of last year.

José’s grandparents had raised him and his year-older sister Daniela since they were born in Venezuela. The children’s mother worked and their father left the family when both were infants. In 1997, when José was seven years old, the family migrated to the United States, settling in Reston.

Silvia and Mario, José’s grandparents, took full charge of the pair five years ago when their mother died of cancer. Grandpa Mario works as a building engineer, and his wife Silvia, who is blind, cares for the kids and their quaint, two-story house, which she keeps immaculately clean.

The children speak Spanish at home and English at school.

By leaving home that night in May, José became one of some 200,000 Latinos who go missing in the United States annually, according to Department of Justice statistics and estimates by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

José’s hair is black and cut short. He’s thin and tall, about 5′ 10″ and still growing. He has a chocolate-milk complexion and clean, smooth facial features.

He’s a great kid, according to the friends with whom he spent time with before running away. He had goals and ambitions, one friend said, working in auto mechanics among them. On weekends he used to accompany his grandmother to church and attend movies with his sister and cousins.

José’s also a kid who was caught smoking marijuana and put on long-term suspension from South Lakes High School, where he was a freshman. Prior to running away, he spent his days at home with his grandmother, working with school-supplied tutors to continue his education.

The time at home may have driven José away. His cousin Joshua, 14, said he heard José was telling people he was treated like a slave, made to clean the house tirelessly. (José’s sister Daniela contradicted, “My grandma cleans everything.”)

Grandmother Silvia explained that she asked José to help with some of the house cleaning so he wouldn’t sit in the basement watching television and eating all day. She laughed when she said this, but then wondered aloud how he was eating away from home.

Silvia remembers the phone calls she received from an anonymous caller when José was still missing. Although no words were spoken to her, she recognized José’s breathing. He stayed on the line, listening as she told him how much she missed him and pleaded for him to return.

Silvia’s very religious, like many from her home communities in Santiago, Chile, and later Venezuela. In Reston she’s a dedicated member of a Christian Baptist church and talks regularly of her faith. According to one of José’s friends, he left because his grandmother was very strict, and he wanted more freedom. While away José stayed in Reston. He’s lived with friends, although a different group than those he’d spent most of his time with in prior years. Most were also Hispanic.

Family acquaintances saw him at local recreation areas and a few called Silvia so she could contact authorities for help.

Silvia expressed frustration with the institutional help she received. .

Nancy Caracas, José’s case manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children distributed the boy’s photo to local businesses. She said the police followed protocol for a child José’s age but found no productive leads for weeks.

In cases like José’s, nine out of ten children are found or return on their own, she said.

While his grandparents were at church on June 19, José left a note on the front door. It wished his grandfather a happy Father’s Day and said not to worry. He was doing fine.

Silvia anxiously awaited the moment when she could talk to José face to face to ask him what went wrong, why he left.

When the police arrived at her door on Aug. 9, she got her chance.

(c) 2006, Hispanic Link News Service