MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — David Cotto, a 16-year-old diagnosed with bipolar and oppositional defiant disorders, has been missing since May 2 with no money and no medications, triggering a search by local law enforcement and a national center for missing children.

“This is not David. This is not something he’s had a record of doing … He’s without his medications and he’s not in his right state of mind,” his mother, Katherine Garza, said Monday.

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Garza said Cotto, who was recently released from an 18-month residential treatment program, in the past would “get in one of his moods” and take off, usually to a friend’s house. “But I’d go and talk to him and he’d come right back home,” she said.

Not this time. Garza said she called the numbers on a phone list of Cotto’s that she found to no avail, and is making up fliers. She filed a report with the Merrillville Police Department and called the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, which is assisting in the case.

She also contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is actively working on Cotto’s case, according to Bob Lowery, executive director of the missing children division.

“My fear is that my son is very vulnerable. He wants people to like him. He also has a learning disability and a very big heart,” Garza said. “He is not a normal 16-year-old.”

She said Cotto has no money, vehicle or job, and without his medications he could become combative.

Cmdr. Sharon Bennett, of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, said this is a Merrillville Police Department case, but her department, which deals with juvenile and family issues, is providing assistance. Bennett was on her way Monday afternoon to a neighborhood where Cotto was last seen.

“I’m really concerned about his safety and well-being,” Bennett said of Cotto. “He could be in danger because of his age.”

Bennett said while she doesn’t know him, she believes Cotto is more of a danger to himself than to anyone else, given his age, the fact that he was recently released after 18 months in residential treatment and is not taking his medications.

Merrillville Chief of Detectives James Lilley said Monday the police are still looking for Cotto. He said the case was assigned last week. Lilley also said he welcomes the Sheriff’s Department’s assistance.

Lowery said Cotto will be added to the center’s database of missing children as soon as they receive authorization from Garza to post his photo on their Web site,

“Someone out there knows where David is. He needs his medication,” Lowery said. He said in some instances, a friend, or even a friend’s parent, will hide the missing person.

Garza said Cotto was dressed in a black T-shirt, black sweatpants and black athletic shoes. He is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, about 180 pounds, with an olive complexion, black hair cut short and brown eyes.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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