Our case of this week involves finding a 16 year-old runaway girl.
“Frank” and “Linda”, residents of Los Angeles County, called our local office there regarding their missing 16-year-old daughter, “Natalie”. The previous day on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. they dropped Natalie off at her high school where she was to spend the morning taking the SAT examination. That never happened.
At noon on Saturday, Frank went to pick up Natalie, but she wasn’t there.
He went inside to the school, where officials told him that his daughter did not register or take the examination. They spent the rest of the day calling Natalie’s cell phone which always went to an immediate voicemail. (This usually indicates the the cell phone is off or the battery has been removed.)
On Sunday morning, I met the parents and two siblings in our Los Angeles office. There had been no contact of any kind with Natalie to that point.
Fortunately, we determined that the family all shared a phone plan. Accessing the account with the help of Linda, I quickly determined that Natalie had made three phone calls to three different numbers and had received one incoming call. The three numbers called were to two different taxi companies and one Uber driver. The incoming call was a returned call from one of the taxi companies.
An investigator in my office was able to determine what taxi company actually picked Natalie up at school. The transportation log indicated she was dropped off at a local bus station.
Personnel at the bus station were very helpful (and usually are when a minor is concerned). From previous experience, we knew that no identification was needed to obtain her bus ticket. Natalie did not use her real name, but an alias. Their video surveillance from Saturday was on a 7-day loop, and revealed to us that she had boarded a bus bound for San Francisco.
We let the agent-in-charge of our San Francisco office know, and he began the process of checking the local known hangouts for teenage runaways.
Local law enforcement was contacted, and we determined that two agencies were working this matter. One agency took charge in the city where the high school was located, and another agency was also helping in the city where the family resided.
We immediately shared the bus information with the police. They then pinged Natalie’s cell phone (A ping determines and tracks the location of a cell phone by tracking the last signal). Shortly after a phone has been pinged, the carrier is able to determine the location of the phone through cellular tower triangulation.
Natalie was located in downtown San Francisco within a two block area. Unfortunately, efforts to locate her by our San Francisco investigators met with negative results.
The next day, we were advised in the morning that the police agency where the family lived had taken over jurisdiction of the case. At 10:00am, they called my office and advised that they determined Natalie’s cell phone was indicating she was in Denver, Colorado. Given the distance involved, this seemed fairly impossible unless she had boarded a plane.
Monday evening I was informed by the police agency that they were receiving no signals or information from the cell phone. This seemed very odd. Was Natalie about to spend her third night on the run?
Sometime luck is helpful in solving cases. As the sun was setting, my thoughts turned to making sure my staff and I were doing everything possible to locate Natalie.
How about we call her cell phone?
We did and she answered. Natalie stated that she was in Elysian Park in the city of Los Angeles.
She had received a text message I sent her on Sunday and referred to what I wrote in it: If law enforcement found her first, she would probably end up in Juvenile Hall or police custody. She wanted no part of that.
Her parents were called and proceeded to the area. Natalie and I remained on the phone until her parents arrived. You could actually hear the relief in their voices as all three reunited.
Two cases (one from 1982 and one from 2015): Both similar in that illegal listening devices (bugs) were planted in a break room coffee machines.