Girl Found In Canada Might Be A Missing Child From Houston

The FBI, the United States Embassy and child welfare authorities in Houston and Hamilton, Ontario are investigating a strange case that possibly involved a missing local girl.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, last month, 40-year-old Carol Ann Cozzi arrived in Hamilton with a young daughter named Briana Cozzi in tow. Cozzi told locals she was seeking a job and a new life in Canada after failing to find work in Houston in nine months between August 2008 and May of this year.

Meanwhile, the Virginia-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent word to Hamilton authorities that five-year-old Brejohna Peres of Houston was in the Canadian city. At press time, officials in both Canada and the U.S. are attempting to prove that Briana is in fact Brejohna.

"We're in the midst of investigating that," Hamilton Children's Aid Society executive director Dominic Verticchio told the Spectator. "We're working with the officials down in Houston, Texas, and there's a lot of similarities. We haven't quite confirmed the fact if it is the same child, but we need to confirm this with the folks down in Texas. There's too many similarities that it causes us a great deal of concern, both for us and the Texas child protection authorities."

Cozzi is denying everything.

Reached by a Canadian reporter at the home of a friend in Hamilton, Cozzi said the situation was "a nightmare" and asked "How can this happen?" She told the paper that she has furnished authorities with Briana's birth certificate that lists her vitals as having been born as Briana Michelle Cozzi in Islip, New York on October 20, 2002. (There is no father listed -- Cozzi claims dad bailed on her when she announced her pregnancy.)

She says she has urged officials to call a school in Long Island that she claims Briana attended in May 2007, the same time Brejohna disappeared. Nevertheless, the child has been taken into custody, and Cozzi has only been allowed to see her for one hour since then.

According to Harris County Child Protective Services spokesperson Estella Olguin, Brejohna Peres is a ward of the state. Olguin told Hair Balls that Peres was abducted by her mother in November 2007 (Hair Balls is awaiting explanation of the discrepancy between the two dates listed for Peres's disappearance) while Peres was residing with her grandmother and has been missing ever since. CPS here sent word to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which brings us to where we are now -- pending fingerprint and DNA tests due any day or hour now. The Spectator reported that the child has been ordered by a court to be returned to Texas.

Either way those tests go, there will be some tough questions to answer. Should Briana turn out to be Brejohna, how did Cozzi acquire her? Should this investigation turn out to be a huge mistake and Briana turns out to be Cozzi's natural-born daughter, how could authorities put the two of them through this agony?

"She seems like she's doing OK, but she wanted to come home," Cozzi told the Spectator. "I had to tell her this was an adventure. She got a really cool ride in a police car, but she didn't know she'd be away for the weekend."

That might not be all she didn't know. Stay tuned. 

3:16 pm UPDATE

Estella Olguin of CPS got back with us and said that Brejohna Peres did in fact disappear on May 2 2007. Along with her three siblings, Peres was taken by her non-custodial mother from an area Chuck E. Cheese. Brejohna's three siblings were all found safe in Las Vegas in November of 2007; she is the only one still missing. Olguin adds that she hopes that even if this child is not Brejohna, that the added media scrutiny will help find her and reunite her with her siblings.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.