A teenage girl from Edmonton, who was first reported missing over a week ago, was found safe in the state of Oregon Saturday, police say.
A man, 41, from Oregon has been arrested. The Edmonton Police Service say they will be charging him with child luring under the Criminal Code of Canada, though more charges may be laid as the investigation progresses, including charges from other police agencies, said Insp. Brent Dahlseide, of the EPS’ major crimes branch, during a news conference Saturday morning.
The 13-year-old girl rode the bus to school on June 24, but was reported missing after her family learned she did not attend class and did not come home that afternoon.
Family and friends pushed to find her, or any information regarding her whereabouts, in the days since by searching the neighbourhood, forming a Facebook group and posting to social media, handing out pamphlets and putting the child’s name and face on billboards.
The girl’s father spoke with CBC News from the airport Saturday where he was waiting to catch a flight to meet his daughter in Oregon. CBC is not identifying the girl or her father.
He said the girl is at a children’s hospital in Portland for a precautionary health check, and added that officials have told him she isn’t injured.
“We’ve gone for seven or eight days with absolutely no information, worrying where she could possibly be,” he said. “We’re ecstatic. We are so relieved to have her back.”
While the girl was missing Edmonton police partnered with multiple police agencies, including the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Gladstone Police (Oregon), Oregon City Police and the FBI.
Dahlseide described the investigation as unique in that EPS does not often have to coordinate with police forces outside the province, let alone across international borders.
The girl was listed as missing in the Canadian Police Information Centre, a national database shared among Canadian law enforcement, and the Child Search Network, a nation-wide app created by the Missing Children Society of Canada, Dahlseide said.
Police did not issue an Amber Alert, however.
According to the Alberta government website, police can only activate an Amber Alert if four criteria are met:
- a child, or an adult with a proven disability has been abducted
- the person is in danger of serious harm or death
- there’s enough descriptive information so the public could identify the person, abductor or the mode of transportation
- there’s a reasonable expectation that either the person who was abducted could be returned, or the abductor apprehended.
Initially, police did not have evidence that suggested the teenager was with someone else, said Staff Sgt. James Vanderland, of EPS’ historical crimes section, in a news release Saturday.
Eventually, Edmonton police gathered enough information to start drafting an Amber Alert. But then they learned the girl was out of the country, which made it no longer feasible because she was out of the jurisdiction.
Once police were notified that the man had crossed the border, Edmonton police started coordinating with U.S. law enforcement in case the man returned to Oregon, Dahlseide said. The man lived near Portland, Ore., but Dahlseide was unsure of his citizenship status.
As the police investigation continues, the girl’s family is preparing to bring her back home to Edmonton.
“We’re not going to kid ourselves and say we’re just going to pick her up and everything’s back to normal,” her father said. “But we have a very strong family.”
The father also stressed his gratitude to the people who supported the family and searched for the girl for the past week, and said he suspected the girl was no longer in Edmonton since so many people were searching for her with no success.
Hearing she had been found in the U.S., though, was a surprise, he added.
He also said he hoped his daughter’s story would encourage other parents whose kids go missing.
“I think this should be a lesson to all families in Canada of missing children that don’t give up hope and always keep pushing forward. Be relentless because you can find your children and you can get them back,” he said.
Meanwhile, police are still faced with many unknowns about the case.
At this point, police believe the Oregon man was in Edmonton, but they’re not sure what his intentions were in bringing the girl to the U.S., Dahlseide said.
Police confirmed the man and the girl had been in contact through a social media platform — Dahlseide was unsure of which one — but they’re unsure for how long they had been in touch. Police also don’t know how the two made contact in person.
The child luring charge is the only one to be laid for now because Edmonton police believe it can be supported based on the online history, Dahlseide explained.
He does not know what charges U.S. law enforcement may lay.
Police also do not know how the girl wound up across the border.
Edmonton police, with help from the FBI, are working to map out the route the Oregon man took to get to Edmonton, as well as the route he and the girl — or routes, if they travelled separately — travelled to get to the U.S., Dahlseide said.
So far, police believe the man was around Mission, B.C. for about three to four days after the girl went missing, he said, but police are unsure if the girl was with him at the time.
EPS will be contacting the local RCMP detachment in Mission to try to track down any potential witnesses, he added.
“We don’t know if there were any other stops that we can speak to with assurance at this time,” Dahlseide said.
The man and girl were found together in the U.S., he added.