Family 'joyous' missing Calif. woman found safe

REDDING, Calif. — A day after a missing Northern California woman was found near Sacramento, her friends and family expressed relief.

Sherri Papini, 34, of Mountain Gate had been missing since Nov. 2.

"Everyone's tireless efforts has made our family whole again this Thanksgiving," Papini’s sister, Sheila Koester, said in a statement at a news conference Friday afternoon. "Right now she's been through a very traumatic event and needs time with her family."

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, appearing on Good Morning America on Friday morning, said Papini was "very emotional" after being found.

"The California Highway Patrol was able to connect her to her husband via cellphone and he immediately started responding to the Yolo County-Sacramento area. Of course, she was very emotional to be released and hear her husband's voice and then a few hours later to be reunited with him," Bosenko said.

A passer-by found Papini, 34, along the side of a road near Interstate 5 in Yolo County, north of Sacramento, a "short amount of time" after her alleged captors dropped her off, Bosenko said.

"Evidently, one of the captors had dropped her off on a rural road near Interstate 5 and an interchange," he said. "She was able to flag down a motorist, and that motorist summoned emergency assistance from the highway patrol then medical (responders) as well."

Authorities are searching for two Hispanic women armed with a handgun and driving a dark SUV as the main suspects in Papini's alleged abduction. Papini herself provided that information, Bosenko said.

Bosenko said investigators have received "limited information" on the case from Papini.

"Obviously she was emotional and quite upset but elated to be free and so we were able to get some information from her. In the days following this, we'll be following up with her," Bosenko said. "We hope that we can get additional information to identify (the suspects), maybe the SUV, and then hopefully they can be found and brought to justice."

Papini, the mother of two young children, was discovered at 4:30 a.m. PT Thursday, the sheriff said. She already has been released from a hospital in Yolo County for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, and her husband, Keith Papini, was by her side.

An assortment of balloons and yellow ribbons dangled off a pole near Papini's home in Mountain Gate. On a sign saying Sherri Papini was missing, someone scribbled the words “Found. Thank you” in marker pen.

Koester said that the family credits the use of social media in raising awareness about her sister.

"I just know that getting her face out there was the best thing that anyone could do," she said.

Koester said she had been reunited with her sister, who was "very excited to be home."

Koester provided few details about her sister's reunion with family members and what Papini may have said about the past three weeks. She reiterated that the family felt joy that Papini was safe.

Papini's neighbors and friends also said they felt the same thing — relief.

"We're thrilled," Diane Kidd said Friday. "I was just grinning all day yesterday."

Kidd and her husband, Dennis, have lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. Their daughter, who now lives in Reno, attended high school with Papini, and the two had become close friends, Diane Kidd said. As the woman browsed through some files on her laptop, she located pictures of the two girls together — a picture of the two in an embrace after a "whip cream fight" and another of them dressed up for a school formal dance.

But Papini's abrupt disappearance left the Kidds nervous about their quiet rural neighborhood.

"It was something that doesn't happen very often around here," she said. "I've always thought, as a parent, it'd be your worst nightmare. If you know the person, it touches you differently."

A few houses away from the Kidds, Dan Garcia, 66, said the quiet neighborhood has a sense of community and people look out for one another. He knows his neighbors, and calls out to them whenever he needs a bit of help with his car. And in the past 10 years, he's never had a problem with any of them.

"People here are really nice," he said. "If something happens, someone will come and help."

Although he didn't know the Papini family, the news about her disappearance shocked him, he said. But now that she's been found, he wishes the family well.

"Hopefully, she's all well and good," he said, holding back tears.

Follow Amber Sandhu on Twitter: @AmberSandhu_RS

KGW


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