HAVRE – When Alicia Navarro disappeared in 2019 from her home in a Phoenix suburb days before her 15th birthday, she left a signed note for her family promising she would return.
“I will be back, I swear,” the note read. “I’m sorry.”
Believing she would keep her promise, Jessica Nunez never stopped searching for her daughter.
She paid for a billboard ad in Mexico that featured a photo of her daughter for a year. She bought 10 more ads in Las Vegas. She spoke at events and gave countless media interviews to raise awareness about the case. She left flyers all around Glendale — at salons, truck stops, parks.
Nunez’s yearslong search came to an end Sunday when her daughter, now 18, walked into a small-town Montana police station near the Canadian border and identified herself as the missing teenager.
Police said Navarro told them she hadn’t been harmed, wasn’t being held and could come and go as she pleased. She does not face any criminal charges, they added.
Investigators are now trying to determine what happened to Navarro after disappearing at age 14 and how she ended up in Havre, Montana, more than 1,300 miles away from her home.
Over the years, Nunez had raised concerns that Navarro, who was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum, may have been lured away by someone she met online.
Law enforcement officers took a man into custody at an apartment just a few blocks from the Havre police station on Wednesday night, according to several witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press.
As many as 10 heavily-armed uniformed and undercover officers showed up about 8 p.m. and took away in handcuffs the man who had been living in the apartment, said Rick Lieberg, who lives across the street.
A young woman later emerged from the apartment who Lieberg said he had not previously seen. He said the woman resembled a photograph of Navarro that was released by police.
“She came out, talked to the officers, then two ladies pulled up and then she got into a car with them and they left,” Lieberg said.
Officers remained on the scene for several hours, taking pictures and doing other work inside the apartment, Lieberg said. He said the young woman returned to the apartment building with the two women on Thursday, but he did not see her go into the apartment.
A second witness, Jonathan Michaelson, who lives next door to the apartment, said he was questioned at the scene by a plainclothes police officer who said he was from Arizona and asked if Michaelson had ever seen a girl at the apartment next door. He said he had not.
“If she was in that apartment, I’m surprised I never saw her,” Michaelson said.
Glendale police Lt. Scott Waite said this week they were looking into all the possible scenarios that could have led to Navarro’s disappearance, including kidnapping.
“As much as we’d like to say this is the end,” Waite said at a news conference Wednesday, “we know this is only the beginning of where this investigation will go.”
Nunez declined an interview request from The Associated Press. But for years, she had documented her efforts to find her daughter on a Facebook page titled “Finding Alicia.”
In an emotional video viewed more than 200,000 times since it was posted Wednesday, Nunez told her tens of thousands of followers: “For everyone who has missing loved ones, I want you to use this case as an example. Miracles do exist. Never lose hope and always fight.”
Nunez had amassed a loyal following on social media throughout the years while sharing inspirational quotes, photos of Navarro as a young child and posts addressed directly to her daughter.
“Alicia I know you will fulfill what you promised,” Nunez wrote in one post. “You will be back.”
People across the U.S. reached out to the Arizona mother to ask how they could help, creating an informal network of volunteers. They shared photos and information through the Facebook page.
Glendale police said this week that they received thousands of tips over the years.
Authorities in both Montana and Arizona haven’t said how long they believe Navarro had been in Havre before walking into the police station. The town of about 9,200 people is surrounded by farmland and is north of the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
In a short video clip that Glendale police said was taken shortly after Navarro arrived at the Montana police station, she can be heard telling authorities, “No one hurt me.” In another short video, Navarro thanked the police.
“Thank you for offering help to me,” she said.
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