Search for missing Vallejo girl narrows on Sonoma County coast
The hunt for a Vallejo girl who was abducted at gunpoint and last seen being dragged across a freeway overpass led investigators Friday to the Sonoma Coast, where authorities converged on the mouth of the Russian River searching for any trace of the missing teen.
Crews crisscrossed a 4-square-mile area of steep, brushy, poison oak and tick-infested terrain near Jenner looking for 15-year-old Pearl Pinson. Two helicopters surveyed the area from above, while deputies in a Sonoma County sheriff’s boat scanned the river banks from below.
“The strongest leads are in this area,” Solano County sheriff’s spokeswoman Christine Castillo said. She declined to detail the nature of the information that brought investigators to Sonoma County.
The search was suspended at sundown Friday. It is scheduled to resume Saturday morning.
Pinson was abducted Wednesday morning in Vallejo while walking to a school bus stop. She was last seen about 7 a.m., bloody and screaming for help, dragged across a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 780.
Deputies found blood on the ground and Pinson’s cellphone, Castillo said.
A witness who saw Pinson being dragged across the bridge identified her abductor as Fernando Castro, 19. A family member said the two teens knew each other but authorities believe she was taken without consent.
Castro was killed Thursday afternoon in a gun battle with Southern California sheriff’s deputies 300 miles to the south in Los Alamos, a city along Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County. Deputies spotted Castro in his gold Saturn sedan and attempted to stop him, leading to a high-speed chase. Castro abandoned the sedan, briefly barricaded himself in a mobile home park, then stole a pickup truck and opened fire at deputies, who shot and killed him.
Surveillance cameras captured images of Castro’s car traveling around 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning in Marin County, about 25 miles from where Pinson was taken, on Sir Frances Drake Boulevard near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Authorities searched the San Francisco Bay for the girl on Thursday morning before shifting their focus to Sonoma County.
Investigators do not know if Pinson was ever in Castro’s car, Castillo said. They believe the teen is injured but still alive, she said.
“Our number one priority is to bring her home to her family, and we do believe that is possible,” Castillo told reporters Friday evening at the search site. “There are indications she could be possibly injured, and that is still a concern. ... We want to locate her and get her any medical attention she needs.”
Pinson was last seen wearing a gray sweater, black leggings and a black-and-turquoise backpack. She has dyed green hair and green eyes, and officials said she has a metallic piercing below her lower lip on the left side.
Authorities centered their search Friday afternoon along Willow Creek Road, an old logging road on the south side of the Russian River.
A longtime resident who was watching the search much of the day said the sheriffs boat was launched at Jenner and was searching along the river upstream for several miles all the way to the Willow Creek campground.
“There were two people in the boat. They were definitely scanning the river,” said Bridgehaven area resident Jaime O’Brian. “They were definitely looking down into Willow Creek and down into the Russian River.”
From the air, the Sonoma County sheriffs helicopter and a Coast Guard helicopter assisted in the search.
O’Brian said his neighbors were also asked by sheriffs investigators if they saw a car speeding and heard a gunshot within the past 24 hours. “No one heard or saw anything,” he said.
Civilians had volunteered to help but were turned down.
“It’s a potential crime scene. We have to limit our search personnel to law enforcement,” Castillo said.
This story includes information from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @clarkmas.