Video evidence points to Bodega Bay in extensive search for Vallejo kidnap victim

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Authorities said Friday they remain hopeful that a Vallejo girl abducted last year as she walked to school is still alive and could be somewhere along the Sonoma Coast.

Video evidence obtained over the past 10 months shows the man suspected of grabbing then-15-year-old Pearl Pinson from a freeway overpass was at a Bodega Bay gas station the next day, said Christine Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Solano County sheriff’s office.

The man, Fernando Castro, 19, also of Vallejo, fled to Southern California, where he was killed in a gunfight with police. A trace amount of Pinson’s blood was found in his trunk, while evidence from his cellphone and house further point to the coast, specifically the town of Jenner, Castillo said.

Partly because a body has not been found, detectives think she could still be alive and is being held against her will, possibly as a sex-trafficking victim, Castillo said.

“We remain hopeful that she’s out there and we will bring her home,” Castillo said Friday.

Her abduction unfolded in dramatic fashion on May 26, when witnesses reported seeing her being dragged from an Interstate 780 overpass in Vallejo by Castro.

A description of Castro’s gold Saturn car went out in an Amber Alert, and he was later spotted driving south through San Luis Obispo County. He was pursued into Santa Barbara County, where he was shot and killed by officers near Solvang.

Based on evidence found in the car and in Castro’s home, detectives converged on Jenner, searching for two days the Russian River and neighboring areas. No sign of Pinson was found.

In the months that followed, Solano County volunteers pored over hundreds of hours of video surveillance footage collected from homes and businesses along the coast. They turned up a recording of Castro that showed him at the Bodega Bay gas station on May 26, Castillo said.

Again, there was no evidence that Pinson was with him.

If she is alive, detectives believe she could still be in the area. However, she could also be almost anywhere else because Castro was known to have traveled more than 350 miles before he was stopped.

“She could be in another state,” Castillo said. “She could have been passed from person to person. We know the suspect was interested in the Jenner area and he was seen on tape near there.”

There’s no evidence that she’s being used in human trafficking, but it is also a possibility because it is a growing concern across the country, Castillo said.

Her sister, Rose Pinson, said Friday she prefers that to the alternative.

“I would rather have that happen,” Rose Pinson said. “It gives us hope she is still alive.”

Her family is offering a reward for information leading to Pinson’s discovery. The missing girl, a freshman at Jesse Bethel High School when she disappeared, is described as 5-foot-3-inches tall and was 130 pounds at the time of her abduction. She had blonde hair dyed green and wore a lip ring.

Her sister said the small amount of blood found in the trunk and at the overpass where witnesses heard a gunshot as Pearl Pinson was taken suggests she was not killed.

The family is planning its own search along Castro’s route to Southern California in the months ahead.

“Our best hope is she is still out there,” Rose Pinson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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