Desperate search for missing California teen after suspected kidnapper shot dead by police


A dramatic shootout between police and a kidnapping suspect ended in bloodshed Thursday but offered agonizingly few clues as to the location of a missing and apparently injured California teen.

Fernando Castro, 19, was fatally shot by police after leading them on a high-speed chase and engaging them in a gun battle, authorities said.

Castro’s car had been linked to the abduction a day earlier of 15-year-old high school student Pearl Pinson.

But when authorities searched Castro’s car after the shootout, they found no trace of the missing teen.

“Pearl Pinson was not found in the vehicle,” Solano County Sheriff Thomas Ferrara told reporters. “We continue our search and we hope to find her alive.”

The bizarre case began on Wednesday morning when Pinson was snatched off the street on her way to school.

A witness reported seeing Pinson, her face bloodied, pleading for someone to help her as a man with a handgun dragged her off the sidewalk of a highway overpass, according to the Associated Press.

While running to get help, the witness then heard a gunshot.

Solano County Sheriff’s deputies found what appeared to be blood and Pinson’s cellphone at the scene, the AP reported.

On Thursday morning, after investigators had gathered more information on the abduction, the California Highway Patrol issued an Amber Alert asking motorists in Solano and surrounding counties to be on the lookout for Castro and his gold 1997 Saturn sedan.

Authorities have said Castro and Pinson knew each other, but that Pearl was taken against her will.

Pinson’s family members, however, said they did not know Castro.

Shortly after the Amber Alert, Castro’s car was spotted by surveillance cameras across the San Francisco Bay in Marin County.

That afternoon, however, the Highway Patrol spotted the car roughly 300 miles south. A high-speed chase ensued, and the patrolmen were quickly joined by deputies from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, according to KCRA.

The man inside the gold sedan then shot at authorities before pulling into a mobile home park, where he crashed, Ferrara said.

The gunman then climbed out of his car and into a pickup truck nearby, according to KEYT.

“He then drove a little ways, got out, shot at deputies,” Ferrara said. “They returned fire. The suspect is dead. And at this point we believe that the suspect is probably Fernando Castro.”

Authorities confirmed later that the dead suspect was Castro, KEYT reported. He died slumped over the wheel of the pickup truck, according to the television station.

Castro’s death only raised more questions, however.

“Where is Pearl?” Ferrara said during a press conference. “We are doing our best to find her.”

Ferrara could not say if there was evidence Pinson had, in fact, been inside the gold sedan. He said the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office was in charge of that crime scene.

“The search has expanded exponentially this afternoon, especially with the car being in southern California,” said Christine Castillo, the Solano County public information officer. “Originally the search efforts were focused in the Vallejo area. That is believed [to be] where she was and they were on foot. With the new information that the car was seen in Marin County, we have sent additional resources to that area.”

Pinson’s family and friends, meanwhile, are trying to remain hopeful that she is still alive.

They gathered Thursday at the site of her abduction, the teenager’s blood still on the overpass concrete.

“She was forced into that car and I pray that she’s found,” Pearl’s older sister, Rose Pinson, said, according to KCRA. “Pearl, you need to come home.”

Pearl’s younger brother, William Pinson, could not contain his anger towards the man believed to have abducted his sister.

“He was really lucky that the police got to him before I did,” he said.

Friends and family members said they had faith that Pearl, the playful teen with pale green eyes, would soon be found.

“She’s a fighter. She’s going to make it through,” a friend said, according to CBS Sacramento. “Pearl’s not going to go down without a fight. I know.”

(c) 2016, The Washington Post ยท Michael E. Miller

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