SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The FBI is offering a $40,000 reward in hopes of finding a Bay Area woman who was kidnapped in Mexico last year.
Monica de Leon Barba, a 29-year-old woman from San Mateo County, was kidnapped on Nov. 29, 2022 while walking home from work with her dog in Tepatitlán, Jalisco, Mexico, according to the FBI.
"Monica was an innocent victim in all of this. She was targeted and the kidnappers want something and we are working to find them to bring Monica home safely," said Robert Tripp, Special Agent in charge at the San Francisco field office.
Tripp said the kidnappers have been negotiating with the family.
De Leon Barba lived in San Mateo for years and for a brief time in Oakland before moving to Mexico last summer.
Her friend Anissa Livas said she is a talented photographer and moved to Mexico for a job opportunity.
Livas, Sarah Mendiaz and Valerie Sherwood met Monica during their freshman year at the University of Oregon and have kept in touch over the years.
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"If you were to line up all of her friends, you would look at them and think what could they possibly have in common? And that would be Monica. She's just one of those people that just clicks with somebody on every level," Sarah Mendiaz said.
They describe Monica as relatable, funny and charismatic. Mendiaz said Monica was at one point the school mascot for San Mateo High School. She got emotional thinking about the milestones that are happening in their lives that Monica's not part of.
"Anissa is getting married this year which is so exciting and to think Monica not being there or her not knowing this news, it's hard and you spend years of your life sharing with someone and then they're not there. We just love Monica so much it's just been so hard to do life without her," Mendiaz said.
The friend group said they think about her abduction everyday. To them, Monica is truly family.
"It's felt extremely surreal with the lack of information. It's even hard what to really think about all of this. What are we preparing for? What should we prepare for?," Valerie Sherwood said.
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Livas helps Monica's brother run the Facebook page "Help Us Find Monica De Leon."
She had one clear message to pass along from Monica's family.
"We need the attention from the Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar. Please make contact with Monica's family have your team reach out to her family and provide assistance. We really need your help in finding Monica," Livas said.
De Leon is a U.S. citizen and had only been in Mexico since June 2022. She is 5-foot-7 and 240 pounds, and has brown hair and brown eyes.
Anyone with information about the physical location of Monica de Leon Barba should contact a local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. You can also submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov, or call the FBI's Toll-Free tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
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