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East Moriches group home: Concern over missing couple

An East Moriches group home is concerned about

An East Moriches group home is concerned about the welfare and whereabouts of resident Marie Villanti, 21, who went missing last week along with her teenage fiancé, Heriberto "Eddie" Perez-Medrano, 17, of Bayport. Credit: Independent Group Home Living Program home

Staff members of an East Moriches group home for the intellectually disabled are concerned about the welfare and whereabouts of a 21-year-old resident who went missing last week along with her teenage fiance.

The missing woman, Marie Villanti, 21, was last seen at the Independent Group Home Living Program home on Pine Street at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Frank Lombardi, assistant to the chief executive of the program.

At 10 p.m. Thursday her fiance, Heriberto “Eddie” Perez-Medrano, 17, of Bayport, was reported missing by his parents, Lombardi said.

Villanti and Perez-Medrano both have intellectual disabilities and Villanti has cystic fibrosis and has not had her medication in six days, Lombardi said. He appealed to the public for help in finding the couple, adding that without her medication “her health could become compromised.”

Lombardi said Villanti left the group home, where he said three other residents live in a round-the-clock supervised setting, through a bathroom window while she was supposed to be taking a shower.

“We need help finding these kids,” Lombardi said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “We launched an immediate search with all the people here, and the police came with the K-9 unit and did a search. We canvassed the entire Moriches area.” Lombardi added, “We’ve even had our maintenance men search and our own family members.”

Lombardi noted that outside the bathroom window is a wooded area where the search was started. He said a staffer discovered Villanti missing after she seemed to be taking too long in the shower.

“We found out she had been seen in the Moriches Bay Diner about 4 p.m. Wednesday and talked somebody into giving her money to take a cab to her fiance’s home in Bayport,” Lombardi said. Lombardi said a cab company had a record of taking Villanti to Perez-Medrano’s house.

Lombardi said the search has involved about “75 to 100” staff members.

“We had people go out and position themselves everywhere — from Penn Station” to train stations from “Hicksville to Ronkonkoma, Riverhead, Patchogue ... It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Lombardi said social media has also been used as a searching tool and that all nearby hospitals have been notified in case they come in contact with Villanti.

Police are investigating both cases but declined to comment Tuesday.

Tom Trakoval, senior director of programs, said Villanti has been living at the group home for about a year and that there are one or two staffers on duty at all times and no residents are allowed to leave the house without supervision.

Trakoval said that before arriving at the group home Villanti had been “in and out of a lot of foster homes” and had a history of running away. He said few have gone missing from the East Moriches home before.

“We’ve done this for a long time and it’s an exception when this happens,” Villanti said.

Lombardi said he is particularly concerned because both Villanti and Perez-Medrano are “highly functioning” and would appear to speak and act like anyone else so he hopes “they’ll stand out because of their height difference.” Villanti is 4 feet, 5 inches tall while Perez-Medrano is 6 feet, 2 inches tall.

Villanti was described by Suffolk County police as having brown eyes and brown hair and she was last seen wearing an oversized black sweatshirt with “SACHEM (boss or leader)” across the front in gold, baby blue leggings and black and white high-top sneakers.

Perez-Medrano was wearing blue sweatpants, a gray hoodie and black high-top sneakers, Lombardi said.

According to the program website, in 1978 a group of concerned members from Eastern Long Island established the not-for-profit Independent Group Home Living following a series of television reports of abuse of people with intellectual disabilities at Staten Island’s Willowbrook Hospital.

Today the program operates more than 50 group homes and day habilitation centers throughout Long Island as well as a 60,000-square opportunity center in Manorville.

Anyone with information about the couple’s whereabouts is asked to call police at 631-852-8752 or 911.

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