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Missing 3 Weeks, Santa Ana Girls Are Found Safe

March 16, 2004|Kevin Pang | Times Staff Writer

Two Santa Ana girls missing for three weeks were found unharmed Sunday evening after the mother of one received a phone call saying that they were at a Buena Park restaurant.

Their homecoming ends not only an ordeal for the families but also criticism that police weren't doing enough to find the teens.

Their families believed the 15-year-olds had been abducted. Police suspected they were runaways, primarily because of their ages, the fact that best friends disappeared together, and because they had been seen together at several locations.

On Sunday, the families learned the authorities were right.

When Gissela Flores and Cristine Chacon, both Santa Ana High School ninth-graders, left for school on Feb. 20 and didn't return home, family members feared the worst.

In the weeks that followed, they complained that police weren't doing enough to find the girls. The search brought media attention and a protest by the families outside the Santa Ana Police Department on March 8.

When the best friends were spotted outside a Buena Park restaurant about 6 p.m. Sunday, family members raced to the location.

The girls, they discovered, had decided to play hooky from school Feb. 20. When they saw themselves on a missing-persons flier, they feared that their families would be angry and went on the lam.

Santa Ana police suspected all along that the girls were runaways, though family members said that would be uncharacteristic.

After the girls skipped school, police said, they traveled around Orange and Los Angeles counties. The two befriended strangers on the streets, asking for money and a place to spend the night, police said.

They attended parties and ate at fast-food restaurants, staying in Anaheim, Stanton, Buena Park and Compton for up to three days before moving on.

Although police would not elaborate on the girls' actions or the risks they took, Lt. Alan Caddell said that a follow-up investigation is underway. Authorities will be looking into "whether they were victims or involved in any illegal activities."

During the search, authorities were in constant contact with the girls' immediate families, said police spokesman Sgt. Carlos Rojas.

Although two detectives worked full time on the case and a number of patrol officers worked overtime, police said they don't expect to charge the families for the investigation.

Police would not say who phoned in the information about the girls.

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