A letter from missing New Hampshire teenager Abigail Hernandez has given new hope for resolution to the now two-month-long disappearance of the 15-year-old, who disappeared into thin air on her walk home from school in the ski resort town of North Conway.
Such missives are rare in missing person cases, the FBI says. While the letter has given the agency – and volunteers who have scoured northern New Hampshire valleys for signs of Abigail – a degree of hope and reassurance, agents say they remain concerned for her safety.
"Though she could have left willingly, someone now could be coercing her," said FBI special agent Kieran Ramsey at a press conference. "Someone now may be manipulating her."
Up to 2.8 million American teenagers run away from home each year, primarily because of problems at home, according to the National Runaway Safeline. The latest FBI figures indicate that 661,593 people went missing in 2012 – a slight decrease from 2011 – while the agency resolved 659,514. About 37 percent of missing persons are juveniles, the FBI says.
The US has seen a number missing women cases resolved in recent years. One of the most dramatic was the release earlier this year of three Cleveland women held captive for decades. The FBI cited that case in reference to the Abigail disappearance, suggesting that, as in the Cleveland case, she may not be far away from her home.
The disappearance of Abigail shocked the rural ski resort town of North Conway, where the per capita violent crime rate is half the New Hampshire rate, which in turn is one of the lowest in the US. She was wearing only light clothing and did not have a significant amount of money when she disappeared.
The FBI did not share the contents of the letter nor where it was posted. But the main search is concentrated around New Hampshire.
The letter was written two weeks after Abigail’s disappearance, but was not received by her mother for another month. Apparently the letter went to a postal box, not the family’s home mailbox, police said.
The FBI had kept mum about the letter as agents worked to establish its authenticity and also to thwart copy cat letters. But after days of rumors about the letter among volunteers in and around North Conway, police held a press conference this week to confirm its existence.
Local volunteers have utilized Facebook to urge people to be on the lookout, an effort that was redoubled on Friday.
“Please note that people should be looking out for a new community member, a person who seems out of place, or lost, or particularly secretive or avoidant,” a Facebook page dedicated to finding Abigail read. “Don’t give up helping in the search for Abby just because she made contact. Until she is home, she is not safe.”