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Baltimore County Police and Fire News

Official News Blog of Baltimore County police, fire, homeland security and emergency management. Call 911 to report crimes in progress and emergencies.
Keyword: florence
The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management oversees disaster response.

Baltimore County Emergency Management officials are preparing for Hurricane Florence to bring heavy rains and serious inland and/or coastal flooding to our area.

The potential for flooding and for trees to topple and bring down power lines is greater because soils are saturated already from months of above-average rainfall. Residents should prepare now to get along for seven days without power, said BCoFD Division Chief Jay Ringgold, who oversees the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"This is a serious, potentially catastrophic storm," Ringgold said. "Don't wait until the last minute to buy supplies and think about how you will get along if the worst happens and power goes out for an extended period. Take steps today to prepare."

NWS Forecast Update

Local emergency management officials participated this morning in the National Weather Service's telephone update on the Florence forecast. Here is the latest:

  • Forecasters are increasingly confident that Florence -- now a Category 4 storm -- will make landfall in the Carolinas, probably late Thursday. The storm is expected to be at least a Category 3 at landfall, with significant storm surge.
  • Forecasters are less certain where the storm will track and how fast it will move once it moves inland. Right now, most expect our area to feel the first effects of the storm late Thursday. The NWS believes the storm will stall, dumping heavy rains. The storm's wind speeds, once it moves inland, are difficult to predict; the amount of wind depends on where and how quickly (or slowly) it moves.
  • Because the storm is expected to stall and produce heavy rains, inland and coastal flooding are major threats throughout the south and the mid-Atlantic. In some areas, flooding could be historic and catastrophic.
  • The emergency from Florence is exacerbated because the ground is already so saturated. Trees are expected to fall, especially in areas that experience heavy wind, causing power outages and posing at threat to life and property.

Baltimore County emergency managers will continue to receive regular updates throughout this weather event. Follow this blog and our social media accounts -- @BaltCoemergency on Twitter and @BaltCoFire on Facebook --  for updated  information.

What You Need to Do

Every household should prepare for this weather emergency as soon as possible.

"The exact track of a hurricane is difficult to predict the exact track of a hurricane, and we could very well find ourselves affected by dangerous flooding and strong winds later this week," said County Executive Don Mohler. "It is imperative for each of us to think ahead and prepare to provide for the needs of our loved ones, especially the elderly, children and pets.”

Think about how you will manage if the power goes out for an extended period. Steps to take now:

  • Locate and purchase supplies. You need non-perishable food, a manual can opener, medications, supplies for infants and vulnerable adults, pet supplies, flashlights/batteries and a battery-powered radio.
  • Buy or store extra water -- at least a gallon per person, per day, plus extra for pets.
  • Fully charge all your electric devices. If power goes out, use them sparingly to make them last as long as possible.
  • Get cash. ATMs will not work during a power outage, so visit one now.
  • Secure boats and outdoor furniture.
  • Plan where you will evacuate if you live in a flood-prone area and need to move to higher ground.
  • Assist vulnerable family, neighbors with storm preparations. This is critical; many vulnerable people, including older people cannot prepare by themselves.
  • Stay informed about the track of this storm. Follow weather forecasts and our social media posts, @BaltCoEmergency on Twitter and @BaltCoFire on Facebook.

BCoFD's Preparations

BCoFD and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have been monitoring this storm for days and preparing for a "worst-case scenario" response. These preparations include:

  • Inspecting swiftwater and high-water rescue equipment; pumps and other apparatus.
  • Reviewing staffing and operational plans.
  • Preparing  to open and staff the Emergency Operations Center, in case this becomes an emergency requiring a coordinated, multi-agency response.
  • Contacting our mutual aid partners in case we need additional resources.
  • Regular updates with National Weather Service regarding the forecast.

Today Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson reaffirmed that Caitlyn Virts is safe and that Baltimore County Police, Baltimore County's Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI will provide all available resources to help her and her siblings.

Caitlyn's mother, Bobbie Jo Cortez, 36, was found murdered Thursday morning in her bedroom in the 3100 block of Ardee Way in Dundalk. Caitlyn's father, Timothy Virts -- who fled with Caitlyn after the killing and was found in South Carolina last night -- is charged with first-degree murder. He will be extradited to face prosecution in Maryland; the extradition process can take weeks.

At a press briefing this morning, Chief Johnson said that the FBI Baltimore Division's participation in the investigation was pivotal in locating Timothy and Caitlyn Virtz. Representatives of FBI's Baltimore Division, including Special Agent in Charge Steve Vogt, participated in this morning's briefing.

Johnson said he was "incredibly relieved" that Caitlyn has been found safe, and credited citizen "keyboard crimefighters" with paying attention to the search and helping law enforcement by calling in "thousands" of tips.

Here is a summary of the information Chief Johnson provided:

Caitlyn Virtz

Police in Florence, South Carolina found Caitlyn last night, with her father, at the Colonial Motel, just off of I-95. She appears to be unharmed.

"Of course," Johnson said, "this child and her siblings have endured a terrible trauma and a terrible tragedy. Baltimore County Government and other agencies will provide all the resources possible to help them deal with the aftermath."

Baltimore County social services personnel are working with social services personnel in South Carolina, and Caitlyn will return to Maryland in the near future. State agencies will be involved in helping with decisions about the children's future.

Sequence of Events

Police responded just after 9 a.m. Thursday to the home on Ardee Way, where Bobbie Jo Cortez was found, murdered, in her bedroom. Bobbie Jo's daughter, Caitlyn was missing. Police quickly determined that Timothy Virts, Caitlyn’s father, had taken her and fled in a 1999 Dodge Durango. An Amber Alert was issued Thursday morning.

Between Thursday morning and the time Virts was found in South Carolina last night, BCoPD detectives worked round the clock fielding and tracking down hundreds of tips and leads.  None of these tips and leads panned out until yesterday afternoon.  A critical turning point, Johnson said, was the FBI’s entrance into this case. The FBI helped broaden this search and extend the reach of the Amber Alert and other notification tools.

Late yesterday afternoon, we received credible information that Virts was in North Carolina. This gave BCoPD for the first time an idea that he was headed south.

Last night, BCoPD received notification from the Florence (SC) Police Dept that the Dodge Durango driven by Virtz had been located at the Colonial Motel. Johnson referred inquiries about the apprehension of Timothy Virts to Florence Police and thanked them for the crucial role they played in this case. Johnson noted that Florence police reported that Virts was arrested without incident.

The investigation into Bobbie Jo Cortez' murder remains active, and BCoPD are not providing additional details at this time.

FBI officials said that a charge of unlawful flight against Virts likely will be dropped; an unlawful flight warrant primarily is a tool allowing the FBI to arrest a wanted suspect anywhere in the U.S.

Notification Tools

"This was a situation whose successful outcome is a direct result of the emergency notification tools that helped the public and other law enforcement agencies identify Timothy Virts and the Dodge Durango," Johnson said.

Johnson said BCoPD was told by police in Florence that a clerk at the Colonial Motel had seen notification about Caitlyn Virts’ disappearance on Facebook and contacted the authorities..

"This case really illustrates the value of multiple platforms for notifying people of emergency situations – in this case, the Amber Alert, mainstream media, social media, the billboards and posters distributed by the FBI," Johnson said. " Citizens who follow these notifications and call in tips truly are keyboard crime fighters, and we are immensely grateful for their participation in this crisis."

Johnson also thanked the many law enforcement partners who assisted with this case: the  FBI, Florence (SC) Police Department, Maryland State Police and other law enforcement agencies throughout the region.

 
 
Revised June 27, 2017