Gina Perez of San Fernando is asking the public for help to locate her son, who was last seen in Venice
59-year-old Gina Perez usually knows where her mentally ill homeless son is. That has been mostly the case since Joseph Lee Zamora started living on the streets in the early 2000s, sticking around in the San Fernando area and occasionally other parts of the Valley.
But now the 43-year-old man has gone missing for two months and his mother is concerned about his welfare. “I don’t know where he is and I’m worried because he may not be taking his medicine for his mental condition,” said Perez. Her son suffers from schizophrenia and drug addiction.
Two months ago, Zamora reportedly checked out of Phoenix House, a drug rehabilitation center in Venice, where he was sent by court order after an arrest for trespassing, according to his mother. He left the center in late August before completing his treatment, Perez said. At Phoenix House, he was regularly given medicines for his mental condition under the supervision of medical staff, but now he may not take them on his own, his mother added.
While Zamora lived on Valley streets, it was his mom who ensured the man took his prescribed pills. Perez visited him every day to bring him meals and his three daily medications. They included Abilify, an antipsychotic to treat schizophrenia, and Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant and nerve pain medication for seizures.
Unfortunately, last March Zamora refused the medications. Instead, he would self-medicate with illegal drugs. Zamora was arrested for trespassing on May 9th.
Perez said her son spent two months in jail, where for many days he didn’t get any medication in spite of several court orders. The mother claims that it took five orders by a judge to force jail staff to comply. She believes that her son, with a clearer mindset thanks to the meds, opted for drug addiction treatment instead of incarceration for his criminal offense.
As a condition of the rehabilitation center, Zamora had to take his mental illness medications while there, his mother said.
However, his stay at Phoenix House did not last long. Zamora left on Aug. 25th before finishing his court-mandated treatment. In spite of his mental illness, Zamora is legally an adult and can make decisions on his own.
Zamora’s mother found out about her son prematurely checking out of treatment nearly three weeks later.
Worried about her son’s whereabouts, Perez tried filing a missing report with various divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department as well as the San Fernando Police to no avail. Since mid-September, she was repeatedly told her son did not meet the requirements of a mission person. Still, she was grateful that a police officer bothered to call hospitals, morgues, jails and other agencies and told her Zamora was not there.
The search for Zamora has taken Perez and family members to Venice and Santa Monica, looking for their loved one in parks, piers, beaches and malls. They have also posted fliers with his photos there.
In her tireless search, recently Perez learned about a California missing persons database online. The Missing and Unidentified Persons Section in the California Department of Justice “assists law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in locating missing persons and identifying unknown live and deceased persons through the comparison of physical characteristics, fingerprints and dental/body X-rays,” according to its website.
An employee of California State University Northridge, where she works as a scholarship coordinator, Perez contacted the campus’ own police department to help her file her son’s missing person report.
Now, after a two-month-long struggle, Perez’s son is listed on the missing persons section of the website of the Office of the Attorney General of California. Zamora is described as a Hispanic male with brown eyes and black hair, five-foot eleven inches tall, weighing 125 pounds, sporting a full beard and with some teeth missing. The listing includes two photos of Zamora.
This weekend, Perez plans to hand out fliers at the celebration of Dia de los Muertos in San Fernando this Saturday.
“I just need to know my son is alive and how he’s doing,” said Perez. “And I’d like to get him back to San Fernando if he wants to, but I’m not going to force him.” She added with tears in her eyes, “I just want him to know that his family loves him.”
If you see Joseph Lee Zamora call the CSUN Police Department at (818) 677-2111. His case number is 230846.
To access the California missing person database, visit https://oag.ca.gov/missing/person/joseph-lee-zamora.