This story has been updated here with more details from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office.
The Redding-area mother who disappeared more than three weeks ago was found safe on a chilly Thanksgiving morning after flagging down a freeway driver in Yolo County.
Sherri Papini, 34, was bound with restraints when she was found around 4:30 a.m. along Interstate 5, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said Thursday at a news conference. She was released on a rural road and then flagged down a driver on the freeway near County Road 17 north of Woodland.
“We are very ecstatic to report that Sherri Papini has been located and has been reunited with her husband and family on this day of thanksgiving,” Bosenko said. “I am happy to say that Sherri is now safe.”
He said the Sheriff’s Office believes Papini was abducted Nov. 2 while jogging 1 mile from her home in the Mountain Gate area north of Redding.
The sheriff said investigators believe it was an isolated incident. Papini described her captors as two women driving a dark-colored SUV and armed with a handgun, Bosenko said.
Authorities had no other information about the abductors, including other details of their appearance or clothing, he said.
He said Papini was injured during her abduction, but did not provide details on the extent of her injuries. She was treated at an undisclosed hospital in the Sacramento area and released. She was reunited with her family on Thanksgiving.
Authorities in Shasta and Yolo counties are involved in the investigation. Bosenko said the suspects have not contacted authorities.
“Detectives will not rest until her captor or captors are identified and brought to justice,” the sheriff said. He called it an “active and critical investigation.”
Papini’s husband, Keith, reported her missing on Nov. 2 after she didn’t pick up her two young children from day care that afternoon, something her family members say was completely out of character for the devoted mom.
Keith Papini “is by Sherri’s side,” Bosenko said.
Bosenko said authorities do not know if Papini knew her abductors. They do not have information about exactly where she was kept or whether she was kept in the same place for the duration of her captivity. They do not know if the abduction was planned or done impulsively.
Authorities do know if she spoke to her captors but are not releasing that information because of the active investigation.
No one called in a tip related to the abductors, and Bosenko said he did not believe that a ransom offered for Papini’s safe return played a role in her release. No arrests have been made.
Bosenko declined to say whether Papini was sexually assaulted. He said her injuries were not life-threatening.
The abduction had captivated much of Shasta County and Northern California, and residents expressed relief Thursday that Papini was found safe.
“We are so happy,” said Cydney Carpenter, a Paradise resident whose daughter Heather was abducted and killed a decade ago. She and her husband, Ed, decided to spend Thanksgiving putting up fliers to help with the search. “We came up to support the family.”
On Nov. 2, family and friends worried when Papini’s cellphone, headphones and a few strands of hair were located off a rural road north of Redding near where she was seen earlier. They described her as a “supermom” who did everything for her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
Soon after, her husband told ABC News: “Everybody who knows my wife knows that there’s no reason for her to leave. She was definitely taken against her will.”
Rod Rodriguez III, who identified himself as Sherri and Keith Papini’s father-in-law, said on Facebook earlier this month that two days before she vanished, she left a message “claiming dibs on cooking sweet potatoes ‘the way the kids like them’ for our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner we were hosting.”
Concerns about her disappearance drove searchers to comb the area around Mountain Gate where she was last seen. It also prompted the family and an anonymous donor to offer rewards for information about her disappearance.
The announcement that Papini was found safe came around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, nearly three hours after the Redding community launched yellow balloons into the sky and wore yellow ribbons at the city’s Turkey Trot, according to the Redding Record Searchlight.
Trudy Nickens, the founder of Nor-Cal Alliance for the Missing, said community members began to wonder Thursday if there had been a development after Papini’s family was absent from a ceremony at the race. Nickens’ group helped organize a massive search in the days after Papini disappeared.
“Anytime someone is found, regardless of the situation, if she left on her own will or was kidnapped, we’re rejoicing,” Nickens said. “The community is rejoicing knowing she’s safe and with her family.”
Soon after Papini was found Thursday, Rodriguez thanked the community and law enforcement in a Facebook post.
“This is a Thanksgiving beyond belief for all of us,” he wrote. “Although I have no details yet we are joyous that Sherri is alive and Keith is reunited with her at the hospital.”
Papini’s sister, Sheila Koester, had held out hope that her sibling would return. Koester told The Sacramento Bee earlier this month, “We feel that she’s going to walk through the door at any time.”
Taryn Luna contributed to this report.