Ava Baldwin was 5 years old and living in San Antonio when police say her mother, Kate Baldwin, took off with her. Police say they were last seen in September of 2015.

Baldwin’s car was found abandoned in a parking lot.

The girl’s father, David Hopper, was about to win a court battle for full custody of her at the time. Hopper says Ava was visiting her mother when they vanished.

“From the very beginning when Katie and I got together, she got pregnant and, long story short, we were trying to be there, we were trying to be there for her and she disappeared for eight months when Ava was about two to three months old.”

David Hopper says it didn’t take long before wanting to see his daughter became a frustrating, legal challenge. He and his family were about to get full custody of the child when she vanished.

She was 5 the last time her father saw her, which has made the last few years a nightmare.

It’s been “A living hell pretty much, but you gotta keep pushing forward because it’s not about me, it’s about my daughter and finding her,” Hopper said. “A lot of great things have happened, but we’re still searching.”

Hopper thinks because Ava has a relative – her grandfather, who was a church pastor – in Moline, Ava may be in the Quad Cities.

Ava’s grandfather told Local 4 News he hasn’t seen or heard from Ava or her mother since 2015.

Ava’s case recently was registered on the Quad Cities Missing Persons Network after founder Dennis Harker spoke with her aunt.

“She called me and I said ‘Why are you contacting me? Because this is not a local case.’ And her answer was that family was in the area so there’s a possibility that the girl could now be here,” Harker said.

Ava’s father says she and her mother live hidden away.

“Through all the lies my daughter is having to live a life where she’s having to hide,” Hopper said. “I don’t even know if she’s with her mother or if she even has the same name anymore. There’s days you wake up and you have to question is she even alive.”

Holidays, he says, are empty. He thinks about Ava every day. And he knows exactly what he would say to her if she could hear him:

“That I love her and miss her and I can’t wait to wrap my arms around her.”