LAWRENCE, Ind. — The search crossing state lines for a missing Lawrence teen came to an end Wednesday night after she was found safe in New Jersey.
Family of Samantha Martinez, 15, first reported her missing on the night of May 3. They initially thought she might be with a friend from school, but detectives with the Lawrence Police Department determined she was not.
According to Lawrence Police Chief Gary Woodruff, investigators soon determined Samantha was possibly with a man she met online and said they believed he came from out of state to pick her up. Due to the possibility she was outside of the State of Indiana, police called in help from federal authorities to help bring her home safely.
In the process, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) created a flyer, helping to share details that would lead to the safe return of Samantha, who authorities believed to be in either Pennsylvania, or New Jersey, where she was ultimately found.
It was a break that Lawrence police detectives got in the case Wednesday that pointed them to a location in New Jersey, where the teen was found by federal authorities.
“We’ll leverage whatever resources we need to with whatever federal, state or local agency that is required to bring a safe return,” Woodruff told FOX59 Wednesday morning.
Doug Kouns, a former FBI agent and CEO of Veracity IIR, said, “in my experience, these agencies would provide any kind of assistance they can to the state and local agencies.”
Family described Samantha as a “special needs 15-year-old.”
“Families want a safe return for anybody, any 15-year-old of course, but it even increases all the more when there are special needs that are involved,” said Woodruff.
Samantha is safe, according to police, and will be reunited with her family within the next day or two. The circumstances that lead up to her going missing, remain under investigation by Lawrence police and the FBI.
“The investigation will continue from there as far as the person whose responsible for doing this and identifying what their level of culpability is,” said Woodruff.
“Any time you can bring resolution that’s very satisfying or gratifying for a lead detective, but especially when it involves the safe, successful recovery of a juvenile,” said Woodruff. “It’s also a sense of relief that you know this family is going to be reunited and that their sense of grief is going to turn into relief.”
Keeping kids safe on the internet
While Doug Kouns isn’t working on this case, his experience as an FBI agent provided him with perspective on how investigations into missing persons work, specifically when it is believed a person met another person online.
“There’s going to be most likely an electronic trail that they’re going to follow at first; IP addresses, depending on the sophistication of the subject, often lead to physical addresses,” he said. “That physical address can lead to the identification of a subject, and then a car, and a license plate, and so there’s a lot that can be done.”
Kouns said, it’s important that parents take the time to talk to their children about the dangers lurking on the internet.
“It’s very common these online predators, you don’t know who’s on the other end of this conversation, be it a Facebook chat or WhatsApp, or Snapchat or who knows,” he said.
“I can’t emphasize it enough that it’s important for the parents to start having these conversations early and often with their children in an age-appropriate way,” Kouns added.
Kouns said these conversations will look different for everybody and that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach that can be taken, but he said letting them know about the dangers that are there and that a person may not be who they claim they are, could go a long way in keeping loved ones safe.
He explained, there are apps and software that parents can put on their children’s devices to track usage, but encouraged transparency and asking your children to allow you to view their browsing history.
“The it’s not gonna happen to me mentality just isn’t going to work in this day and age,” Kouns said.
“Not wanting to victim or parent blame on this at all, but kids, adolescents are so naïve and vulnerable. They want to be adults but they’re not quite yet. They want the trust and respect that an adult would have, but they are just not knowledgeable about the dangers that are out there,” said Kouns.
Above all, he added, communication is key. The conversations might be uncomfortable, but could help in keeping a child protected against a potential predator.
“Some of these conversations are awkward, but if you use these recent examples as a reason with your children, this is why we need to talk about this, cuz I don’t want this to happen to you,” Kouns said.