GDOT won’t allow supporters to hang banner featuring missing Hall County 12-year-old above highway

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Community members hoping to bring attention to a 12-year-old girl who vanished from her Hall County home more than a month ago encountered a setback Friday as they tried to unveil a new banner.

Maria Gomez-Perez vanished from her home in late May. On Friday, the community planned to hang a large banner displaying her picture up on a pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Instead, the five-foot banner, which offers a $50,000 reward for Gomez-Perez’s safe return, is posted on the street corner several yards from the bridge.

Officials with the Georgia Department of Transportation said they would rather feature the child’s picture on electronic billboards around the county.

Still, the man who had the banners made said he’s hopeful that he can get the sign hung on the bridge overhead.

Stefan Lebron didn’t know the family before Maria’s disappearance but felt for them.

“I have a four-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, so I have to apply the same principles as if this happened to me,” Lebron said. “Not only that, you have to take initiative.

GDOT spokesperson Elizabeth Johnson said in a statement to Channel 2′s Bryan Mims:

“GDOT Traffic Ops Department felt there was a better way to get information regarding Maria Gomez’s disappearance to the motoring public rather than a banner in one location.”

Johnson said the agency spoke to the City of Gainesville, asking if the message could appear on the electronic billboards. Mayor Sam Couvillon said Maria’s picture has been posted on six electronic billboards for more than a week.

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Community activist Art Gallegos said that isn’t enough.

“I think it’s fundamental that we have a banner that signifies so much, not just for the Latino community, but for Gainesville in general,” Gallagos said. “People need to know that we have not forgotten. We will not forget.”


Her father, Andres Gomez, spoke to Channel 2′s Bryan Mims through a translator Friday. He said that all the community attention is keeping him strong.

“Seeing everybody that’s coming together, you’re not giving up, thank you so much,” he told the crowd.

He said prayer and his faith in God is keeping him hopeful his little girl will come home.

He said she immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala to live with him about five or six years ago. She was a student at Lyman Elementary School.

Investigators say they have received dozens of tips thanks to the reward being funded by anonymous donors, but none of them have panned out and they have no leads as to where she may be or what might have happened.

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