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Search called off in Sonoma County for abducted Vallejo teen Pearl Pinson

JENNER - The whereabouts of Pearl Pinson remained a mystery Saturday after authorities called off their search for the abducted Vallejo teen who was thought to have been brought to these rugged wildlands along the Sonoma County coast.

Sheriff’s divers, canine units and search and rescue teams spent two days scouring the Russian River and a large swath of hilly terrain southeast of Jenner. They found no signs of the 15-year-old, who was taken Wednesday morning while walking to a school bus stop in Vallejo.

Authorities ended the search about 3 p.m. Saturday. They continued to decline to say what led them to this particular spot of Sonoma County in search of Pinson.

Deputy Christine Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, said revealing that information might compromise efforts to find the girl or prompt bogus tips “that could lead us in a false direction.”

Earlier in the day Castillo had said, “There’s a strong indication that she may be in this area.”

The search for Pinson has been nonstop since law enforcement officers responded to a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 780 in Vallejo on Wednesday morning, when dispatchers received calls of a shot fired and a woman being dragged away screaming by a man, Castillo said.

At the overpass, officers found no one, not even a witness, just a small amount of blood and a cellphone.

The phone belonged to Pinson, and an investigation eventually led to witnesses and a suspect, 19-year-old Fernando Castro, described as an acquaintance of the girl.

On Thursday the CHP issued an Amber Alert with a description of a Gold Saturn sedan that Castro was believed to be driving.

An hour later Santa Barbara sheriff’s deputies spotted the vehicle near Solvang. That led to a high-speed chase and a gun battle that ended in Castro’s death.

The closest known location for Castro’s vehicle to Jenner was Marin County, where the license plate was recorded Thursday morning on or near the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge. Castillo said investigators will continue to search for businesses or residences with surveillance cameras that may provide further clues.

Saturday’s search took place on a busy holiday weekend for both the river and the coast. But what little the public saw of the hunt was limited mostly to parked emergency vehicles and a handful of searchers who briefly examined the Highway 1 bridge near Jenner.

The search command post was located perhaps two miles from central Jenner on a small country lane that follows the south side of the river. The area was closed to the public, though a deputy allowed campers passage to the nearby Willow Creek campsites on state parks land.

Roughly 70 investigators, deputies and search and rescue team members from four counties took part in Saturday’s hunt.

About noon, two sheriff’s divers searched for clues in the river around the tall concrete columns of the Highway 1 bridge, upstream from Jenner’s broad estuary where kayakers skimmed the waters. As the divers worked, two deputies manned a small aluminum boat, and other team members watched from shore beneath the bridge.

Earlier Castillo led a reporter on a brief tour of the hilly and desolate search area. She acknowledged that Castro’s death hinders the search for Pinson.

“It makes our job harder,” she said, “but not impossible.”

The Solano County sheriff’s search efforts Saturday were limited to Sonoma County, Castillo said. Authorities are ready to begin search efforts in Solano County, if warranted, she said.

Among the things investigators now will be focusing on is the time between Pinson’s abduction and the crossing of Castro’s car into Marin County. It’s roughly a 26-hour period, Castillo said, and “we need to find” what occurred during those hours for both Pinson and her abductor.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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