A missing Chattanooga, Tennessee teenager who authorities were looking for in Santa Fe was found early Friday morning in Alabama by an officer conducting a traffic stop.
According to an email from the Chattanooga District Attorney’s Office, Daphne Westbrook, now 18, was found in Geneva County, Alabama, on her way to her aunt’s home in Sebring. , in Florida. After arresting her, the local police obtained her driver’s license. discovered a child-in-danger alert and contacted the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Westbrook was reported missing in October 2019 after she failed to return to her mother’s home in Chattanooga after a weekend visit with her father, John Robert Westbrook. Investigators believe he escaped with the teenager and then detained her somewhere near Santa Fe against her will while cutting off her access to the outside world.
Her Bible was found in February in a trash can at Trader Joe’s store on Cordova Road, authorities said, and her father was found in local stores through purchases.
In March, officials from the Chattanooga District Attorney’s Office said Daphne Westbrook could have been drugged by her father, who was accused of kidnapping her. They also feared that she was in serious mental distress and in danger.
When she was arrested on Friday, however, Daphne Westbrook refused to give law enforcement her father’s location and flatly refused to speak to her mother, Rhona Curtsinger, said Melydia Clewell, chief of staff at the office. of the district attorney.
Daphne Westbrook also told officers she hired a lawyer.
In an interview in March, Curtsinger described his daughter as funny, sensitive and intelligent, with a fierce love for animals. She had no idea that she would never see her daughter again after Daphne left to visit her father, Curtsinger said.
“There is so much that we don’t know and understand,” she said in the March interview. “It’s not what matters most. … What is most important to her is to be safe and to be well emotionally and physically.”
Alabama police were unable to detain Daphne Westbrook and question her further about her father, Clewell wrote in an email, as she turned 18 on Sunday.
She was driving a red station wagon with Colorado license plates, and her cell phone was registered at an address outside of Kansas City, Kan., Clewell added.
Based on what Daphne Westbrook told officers at the traffic stop, investigators believe her father is still in Santa Fe. They also believe he is providing her with medication and is her only way. of support, Clewell said.
Clewell’s office prosecutors still believe Daphne Westbrook is in grave danger, she said, and believe the teenager’s father dictated the course of her trip by booking her motel and hotel rooms.
Officers at the traffic stop found her car completely empty except for a dog she was traveling with, Clewell said. Police said she looked “emaciated” and looked like she was getting rid of a drug. They said she was also delighted that she was able to leave on her own initiative.
Investigators from Tennessee, the Chattanooga District Attorney’s Office, the Samson, Alta. District Attorney’s Office, and a local judge attempted to secure an appointment with a therapist for Westbrook, but they were legally unable to require him to come to an appointment or to prevent him from doing so. to leave, Clewell said.
Officials with the New Mexico Judicial District’s First Attorney’s Office in Santa Fe, who were working with Clewell’s office on the investigation, could not be reached for comment on Daphne Westbrook’s discovery or ongoing research. his father.
Clewell’s office urges the Santa Fe community to be vigilant and report any sightings of John Westbrook, she said, adding that prosecutors hope to see further developments in the criminal investigation against him in a few weeks.