Leticia Berrelez was on the phone with her husband, Richard, on May 18, 1993, when an operator broke in with an emergency call from their daughter Marivel. “She couldn’t talk. It was a friend of Marivel’s who said, ‘Something is wrong. We can’t find Alie,’ ” recalls Leticia. Aleszandra Ariel, her granddaughter, was missing from Marivel’s Englewood, Colo., apartment complex. By the time Leticia got to her daughter, she says, “I didn’t even recognize her, there was so much fear in her face.”
A frantic search ensued as more than 100 officials and volunteers went door-to-door over a 400-square-block area looking for the 5-year-old. Two days later a blood-hound named Yogi, one of only three in the state trained for search and rescue, was finally enlisted. Given Alie’s scent from a piece of her clothing, the dog spent two days tracking her to a stream near a canyon 14 miles from her home. There, her crumpled body was found stuffed in a khaki duffel bag. “That night I said to Richard, ‘What are you going to do with all those emotions?’ ” recalls Leticia, a librarian for Frontier Airlines. ” ‘You have to do something good. Maybe you can stop this from happening again.’ ”
Within days Richard and Leticia, both now 50, created the A.L.I.E. (Abducted, Lost, Innocent and Enough) Foundation. At first unsure of how to help, the Berrelezes, who wondered why a bloodhound wasn’t sent for earlier in Alie’s case, decided to donate trained search dogs to jurisdictions that couldn’t afford them. “The whole purpose of the blood-hound is to have a ready tool to locate a missing child within the hour,” says Richard, whose organization has so far donated more than 100 dogs to law-enforcement agencies in 26 states and Puerto Rico. “It’s huge what the foundation has done,” says Officer Wayne Gibb, 40, of the Elizabeth, Colo., police department, who estimates his bloodhounds’ success rate at 65 percent.
Over the years bloodhounds given by A.L.I.E. have picked felons out of lineups, located missing Alzheimer’s patients and sniffed out fugitives in hiding. Eight months after the group began, Officer Glenn Bailey, formerly of the Cherry Hills Village police near Englewood, was called on to use the first of the Berrelez dogs to help find a 15-year-old girl. After her mother’s car slid on ice during a snowstorm, the developmentally disabled teenager had bolted from the car. “The dog buried her face in the snow and took off at a dead run,” says Bailey. Following a zigzag path, the hound, named after Alie, led Bailey to a Dumpster at a nearby building. “This little girl was crouched down behind it,” says Bailey. “Her hair was all frozen and packed with ice. Alie ran over and licked her big-time.” Though the rescue took all of 12 minutes, it may well have saved the disoriented girl’s life. Bailey immediately phoned Richard Berrelez. “I said, ‘Your dog just paid for itself.’ He started crying on the phone.”
Nearly eight years after Alie’s death, the memory still easily brings tears to the former meat cutter and his wife of more than 30 years. They grew up in small Texas towns about 50 miles apart, met through friends in 1965 and soon began a family. Richard went on to earn a theology degree and preached part-time in local churches. “I thought about becoming a missionary,” he says.
Today Richard’s mission is clear: To cover the foundation’s annual budget of $65,000, much of which goes to the breeders who sell him dogs, he holds regular fund-raisers, including an annual golf tournament. He has also delivered more than 3,500 speeches in seven years, sharing child-safety tips with parents and children. “I really see my dad as my strongest role model,” says Gabrielle, 16, the youngest of the Berrelezes’ four children (Joel is 35, Marivel 31 and Richard Jr. 25). “My parents inspire me.”
It has been more difficult to raise Marivel’s spirits. A single mother raising two sons alone, she still cannot bear to discuss her daughter’s unsolved case. “Even at the happiest,” says Leticia, “you see the sadness in her eyes.” Not that Leticia doesn’t know what her daughter is going through. “We all hurt,” she says. “But we have to go on.”
Vickie Bane in Englewood