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Missing California mother found alive three weeks after her apparent abduction, police say

Sherri Papini. (Shasta County Sheriff’s Office)
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A Northern California woman who was apparently abducted earlier this month during a late-morning jog was found Thanksgiving Day, when she was released by her captor on a rural road in Yolo County, authorities said.

Police said Sherri Papini, 34, who was bound in restraints, flagged down a passing motorist, who immediately alerted law enforcement.

“We are ecstatic to report that Sherri Papini has been located and has been reunited with her family on this day of Thanksgiving,” Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told reporters Thursday during a news conference.

The sheriff said that he did not yet know who the captor or captors were, what the motive was or where Papini had been held these three weeks.

He released few details, explaining it is an ongoing police investigation, and he asked the media to respect the family’s privacy at this time.

Papini’s sister, Sheila Koester, told the Sacramento Bee that the family is elated to be reunited with her.

“This has been the most amazing Thanksgiving that our family could ever ask for,” Koester told the Bee on Friday. “We’re all very, very, very excited, very, very relieved and just very thankful for getting our Sherri back.”

She also thanked the motorist who stopped and helped her sister.

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The sheriff said Papini, from the Redding area, had gone for a late-morning jog Nov. 2 while her husband, Keith, was at work; when she did not pick up her children from day care or return home that evening, her husband started to worry. He started searching for Papini, Bosenko told reporters, and found her cellphone and ear buds about a mile from their home.

The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office listed Papini as a missing person who was at risk and search-and-rescue teams conducted both ground and aerial searches throughout the area, authorities said in a news release at the time.

The sheriff said throughout that tragic time, Papini’s family members and friends were pleading for her safe return. A GoFundMe page, which was created to help raise funds for search-and-rescue efforts, garnered more than $49,000. A Facebook group called Help Find Sherri Papini was set up to raise awareness about her disappearance and keep people informed of developments in her case.

According to the GoFundMe page:

Keith reported to deputies that upon his arrival home from work, he was not able to locate Sherri or their two children. Keith learned that the children had not been picked up from day care as customary and subsequently checked his find my I-phone app and located Sherri’s phone near the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Sunrise Drive in Redding.
Sherri was not at the location and he called 911 for assistance. The children were picked up from day care by family and are safe.
Deputies have searched in the area and learned that Sherri was last seen on Sunrise Drive at approximately 2:00 p.m. jogging/walking alone, which is normal for her. Sherri was last seen wearing a pink running top. Sherri is described as a 34 year old, white female, 5’04: tall, 100 pounds, blonde hair and blue eyes. Family has not heard from Sherri and she is considered a missing person/at risk.
Sherri does not have any known medical or mental health issues.

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Bosenko told reporters that about 4:30 a.m. Thursday the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office learned that Papini had been found safe near Interstate 5 in Yolo County, not far from Sacramento. Papini had suffered injuries, Bosenko said, though he would not say what the injuries were or exactly how she was restrained; she was taken to an undisclosed hospital for treatment, he said.

Bosenko said Papini was able to speak with her husband on a law enforcement officer’s cellphone. He met her at the hospital, where he has been “at his wife’s side,” Bosenko said.

When asked by reporters how Papini is doing, Bosenko said, “Obviously she is very relieved to be returned home safely and be reunited with her husband.”

“They are very  happy to be together and they’re very thankful for everyone for allowing them to have their privacy and allowing them to recover from their situation that all of us have been in,” Koester said of Papini and her husband, according to the Bee.

After Papini’s homecoming was announced, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook: “It’s an absolute miracle, and on Thanksgiving Day.”

The sheriff stressed that the case is still an active investigation and said he “will not rest until Sherri’s captor or captors are identified and brought to justice.”

Authorities are searching for two Hispanic women in a dark-colored SUV; they are considered armed and dangerous, police said. Bosenko did not elaborate on the women’s relationship to the case.

“Even though Sherri has been located and reunited with her family, this investigation is far from over; this has only begun a new chapter in the investigation,” Bosenko said. “As details come to the surface, we will work to keep the public informed. There is sensitive information that is being withheld at this time — I’m not able to put out. And please respect this until such time when we’re able to make an arrest and bring these criminals to justice in Sherri’s abduction.”

Bosenko said law enforcement officers are “overjoyed” that Papini is home.

“This investigation has not only touched our entire community,” he said, “but has circulated the nation as well.”

Bosenko said investigators will follow up with Papini to get a more thorough description of her captors, adding that she has only been able to provide limited information, the Record Searchlight reported.

“People need to realize that she’s been held captive for three weeks, so that was a traumatizing and emotional experience in itself,” Bosenko said.

This post has been updated.

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