'She is alive': Sister of abducted woman says family is still hopeful one year later
Sharif Hassan, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 11, 2023 5:46AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 11, 2023 5:46AM EST
The last time Aysa Hajtamiri spoke with her sister was nearly a year ago. They kept the phone conversation short as Hajtamiri was driving but planned to reconnect soon.
That next phone call never happened.
Not long after she got home, Hajtamiri said she learned that her younger sister had been kidnapped.
Ontario Provincial Police have said three men dressed in police gear snatched 37-year-old Elnaz Hajtamiri on the evening of Jan. 12, 2022, from a relative's house in Wasaga Beach, Ont., and loaded her into a white Lexus SUV.
One year later, she is still missing.
Her family says they've been grieving ever since Hajtamiri's disappearance but are holding out hope she could be found alive one day.
"I know it is one year, but we try to keep our hope that she will come back home soon," Aysa Hajtamiri told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from her home in Melbourne, Australia.
"We always think that she is alive, and that we can see her, we can hug her."
Ontario Provincial Police – who have been investigating the disappearance – and the family have made public appeals for information that could help locate Elnaz Hajtamiri.
Police have also said that Hajtamiri was assaulted with a frying pan in an underground parking lot in Richmond Hill, Ont., in December 2021, just a few weeks before she was abducted.
Her ex-boyfriend, Mohamad Lilo, 35, was charged in both cases in July. Police have said he faces an abduction charge in Hajtamiri's January disappearance, and attempted murder and attempted abduction charges in the December parking lot incident.
York Regional Police have also charged two other men in the December case.
But investigators are still looking for the three people who dressed up as police and snatched Hajtamiri from the Wasaga Beach home, and they continue to work on finding Hajtamiri.
"We will do everything in our power as the police to locate Elnaz, identify and hold accountable those responsible for her kidnapping,” OPP Det. Martin Graham, who is leading the investigation, said in an interview.
"The police to this point, despite the best efforts of everyone, have not been able to either locate (her) or to identify and hold accountable those responsible for that kidnapping."
Hajtamiri's sister said she appreciates what the police have done so far, but argues they could have done more to help before the abduction took place.
She alleges police initially told her sister not to worry about threats from her ex-boyfriend, claiming police told Hajtamiri such things were expected during breakups. Graham said he isn't aware of that conversation taking place between Hajtamiri and the police.
Aysa Hajtamiri said police then told her sister to find a temporary safe place after alleged threats from her ex-boyfriend became more serious, which was why her sister moved into a relative's home in Wasaga Beach.
"(Police) say they are trying, and I trust them. I am far from there, the only thing I can do is to trust them," she said. "I want my sister."
Elnaz Hajtamiri didn't talk much about the troubles she was having in phone calls with her family, not wanting to worry them, her sister said.
"She liked making everybody happy and she tried to solve all the problems by herself," her sister said.
Aysa Hajtamiri said her sister is the topic of every conversation she has with her parents, who live in Iran. They try to lift each other's spirits and talk about hugging Elnaz Hajtamiri when she reunites with her family one day.
"We believe that she will come back," Hajtamiri's sister said.
Graham, of the OPP, said police are in regular contact with the family to share details of the case. While he also hopes Hajtamiri is alive, he noted that she may not be.
“My greatest hope has always been that Elnaz will be located alive. But obviously with time and we're coming up to one year, my greatest fear is that she is not," he said.
"The reality is I do not know."
Police are expected to provide an update on the case on Thursday, which will mark exactly one year since Hajtamiri was abducted.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2023.