Missing 13-year-old Utah girl found unharmed

Associated Press + More

By BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A 13-year-old girl who disappeared this week without shoes or a coat in chilly weather has been found unharmed, but questions abound about where she was and what she was doing while 1,000 volunteers searched for her for two days.

Brooklyn Gittins called her grandmother late Thursday night from a Wal-Mart store in South Jordan, Unified Police spokesman Lt. Justin Hoyal said. The woman then contacted police and officers located the child. She was uninjured and wearing the same clothes — and still without shoes or a coat.

Authorities still don't know whether to label the case a runaway or an abduction.

They know that Brooklyn Gittins crawled out of her bedroom window and left on her own accord Tuesday night. She was picked up in a car by a person or persons who then harbored her for two days, Hoyal said.

"To take somebody who is that age and leave without parental consent is problematic," he said.

The two-day search — which included about 85 police officers and firefighters each day and about 1,000 volunteers — is over, but the investigation continues in search of the people who harbored Gittins, Hoyal said. They could be facing any number of charges.

"We've got to determine what exactly took place," he said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions on our end."

The answers likely won't come until next week at the earliest, he said. Detectives who were working around the clock are getting rest.

Police have interviewed the child, trying to determine where she was. But because she was found in the middle of the night and was tired, they still plan to do a detailed interview after everyone has had time to rest, Hoyal said.

It's unknown how much the investigation and search would cost taxpayers, Hoyal said.

Gittins disappeared Tuesday evening wearing only pajamas and a shirt. With a major snowstorm rolling in, police and volunteers spent Wednesday and Thursday searching 17 square miles in the area near Gittins' home in Herriman, a Salt Lake City suburb about 18 miles southwest of downtown.

A key concern had been the frigid winter weather. The storm has dumped some 8 inches of snow and brought freezing temperatures.

The circumstances surrounding the case concerned authorities, especially because it appeared her departure was unplanned, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said Thursday — before she was found.

At a Thursday news conference, Gittins' grandfather described her as a typical teenage girl who is very outgoing in some cases and very subdued in others.

The first time she ran away, she came back a short while later, Craig Hiller told reporters.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.