In October 2013, when 14-year-old Abigail Hernandez disappeared from the small mountain town of Conway, N.H., an intense search by civilians, police, and federal authorities ensued.
One concerned resident posted fliers of the missing girl up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Many others volunteered to scour the surrounding forests. The local paper, The Conway Daily Sun, kept a running count of the days since her disappearance.
But months later, despite the efforts of friends, neighbors, and townspeople, the mystery of Abigail remained just that – a mystery.
That was until she abruptly showed up at her front door in Conway on Sunday night, a return that has raised almost as many questions in New Hampshire as did her mysterious disappearance.
While residents are overjoyed that she’s returned, they’re also curious about her whereabouts over the past nine months – information that officials don’t yet have. Or at least they’re not admitting to it.
“The long and short of it is, quite honestly, we are just happy that she’s home safe and sound right now,” said Kieran Ramsey, an FBI special agent in charge, on Monday.
The only contact that authorities had with Abigail since October was a letter she sent to her mother two weeks after leaving. Though the letter was not released, officials said they feared that she had run away with another person – and that she might have become a victim of sexual exploitation.
Nine months later, "might" remains the operative word.
On Tuesday, investigators said they were seeking information from anyone who saw Abigail between 10 and 10:30 p.m. on Sunday wearing a sweater and colorful leggings, according to The Boston Globe. Those were the same clothes she was wearing when she disappeared.
“At the time of her disappearance, Abigail was 14 years old and had no known means to facilitate her disappearance or provide herself with shelter, meals, or other necessities over the ensuing nine months,” said a statement released by prosecutors, Conway police, and New Hampshire State Police. “Should the investigation reveal evidence that a person or persons were involved with Abigail’s disappearance and/or detainment or concealment, then the appropriate criminal charges will be brought.”
Whatever transpired during Abigail’s absence, residents of Conway are ecstatic that she has returned safely, according to reports from the area.
“Everyone I know is saying: Thank God she’s home,” Chrisann Acone Cardillo, a Conway resident, told the Globe. “We’re staying positive and hoping she’s OK and waiting to hear something.”
A website dedicated to the search expressed elation for her return and noted a request by Abigail's family for privacy for the time being:
Abby is safely home with her mom and sister!! Family requests privacy right now. Thank you to everyone who has shared fliers, offered help and support. We cant thank you enough!! We will keep you all updated. THANK YOU!!!
Still, some say they deserve the truth after months of searching and constant anxiety. Others say it would bring closure to a stressful episode in the town’s history.
“I want answers,” Jameson Proko of Conway, who kept the business card of an investigating FBI agent in his wallet since the disappearance, told The Associated Press. “The truth often clarifies a lot of things. And prevents rumors.”
• This report includes material from The Associated Press.