HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — An Arizona teenager who disappeared days before her 15th birthday nearly four years ago is safe after walking into a small-town police station in Montana this week, authorities announced Wednesday.
Police in Havre, Montana, said Alicia Navarro, now 18, showed up alone Sunday morning in the town of about 9,200 people near the Canadian border and identified herself as a missing teenager from the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.
Navarro’s disappearance on Sept. 15, 2019, sparked a massive search that included the FBI. Glendale police spokesperson Jose Santiago said over the years, police had received thousands of tips.
Investigators are now trying to determine what happened to Navarro after vanishing at age 14 and how she ended up in Montana, more than 1,300 miles (2,090 kilometers) away from her hometown.
When she disappeared, Navarro left a signed note that read: “I ran away. I will be back, I swear. I’m sorry.”
But her mother, Jessica Nunez, raised concerns that Navarro, who was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum, may have been lured away by someone she met online.
Law enforcement officers took a man into custody at an apartment just a few blocks from the Havre police station on Wednesday night, according to several witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press.
As many as 10 heavily-armed uniformed and undercover officers showed up about 8 p.m. and took away in handcuffs the man who had been living in the apartment, said Rick Lieberg, who lives across the street.
A young woman later emerged from the apartment who Lieberg said he had not previously seen. He said the woman resembled a photograph of Navarro that has been released by police.
“She came out, talked to the officers, then two ladies pulled up and then she got into a car with them and they left,” Lieberg said.
Officers remained on the scene for several hours, taking pictures and doing other work inside the apartment, Lieberg said. He said the young woman returned to the apartment building with the two women on Thursday, but he did not see her go into the apartment.
A second witness, Jonathan Michaelson, who lives next door, said he was questioned at the scene by a plainclothes police officer who said he was from Arizona and asked if Michaelson had ever seen a girl at the apartment. He said he had not.
“If she was in that apartment, I’m surprised I never saw her,” Michaelson said.
Glendale police Lt. Scott Waite, the lead investigator, said they were looking into all the possible scenarios that could have led to Navarro’s disappearance, including kidnapping.
“As much as we’d like to say this is the end,” Waite said, “we know this is only the beginning of where this investigation will go.”
Police said Navarro told them after her arrival at the station she hadn’t been harmed, wasn’t being held and could come and go as she pleased. She does not face any criminal charges, they added.
In a short video clip that police said was taken shortly after Navarro arrived at the police station this week, she can be heard telling authorities, “No one hurt me.”
In another short video, Navarro thanked the police.
“Thank you for offering help to me,” she said.
Authorities in both Montana and Arizona haven’t said how long Navarro had been in Havre before walking into the police station. Havre is surrounded by farmland and is north of the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
Waite described Navarro’s reunion this week with her mother as “emotionally overwhelming” and that Navarro said she was sorry for “what she has put her mother through.”
In an emotional video posted Wednesday to a Facebook account titled “Finding Alicia,” Nunez told her tens of thousands of followers, “I want to give glory to God for answering prayers and for this miracle.”
Nunez had been documenting her efforts to find her daughter on the Facebook page throughout the years. The account features hundreds of posts with photos of Navarro as a young child and pictures of Nunez holding up signs that read, “Children don’t just disappear!”
“For everyone who has missing loved ones, I want you to use this case as an example,” Nunez said in the video, which had been viewed more than 200,000 times. “Miracles do exist. Never lose hope and always fight.”