One of the women had thin eyebrows and pierced ears. Her hair was long and curly. The other one, who was older, had straight black hair and thick eyebrows. Both spoke in Spanish most of the time.
Those were the few details Sherri Papini was able to relay to investigators about the two women who she says forced her into their SUV and then abused her for three weeks as their prisoner. Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko provided the descriptions on Wednesday at his first news conference since Thanskgiving Day, when Papini flagged down a car on the side of Interstate 5 in Yolo County.
Papini’s early morning reappearance 150 miles from home came 22 days after the 34-year-old mother from the small, rural community of Mountain Gate went for a jog and never returned.
The bizarre case has captivated media outlets worldwide and sent television networks scrambling to set up shop in Redding. A barrage of television cameras faced Bosenko as he made his appearance Wednesday. On Friday, ABC’s 20/20 says it plans to air an interview with Keith Papini, Sherri’s husband.
Bosenko said Papini provided the description of her captors during two lengthy, “very intense” interviews Monday and Tuesday at a location he declined to disclose.
“Remember that she was held against her will and was isolated,” Bosenko told the dozens of reporters. “There’s still a lot of unknowns about her assailants.”
He said the two women kept their faces covered most of the time, and Papini’s head was sometimes covered as well.
“Sherri did her best in providing the descriptions but was not able to provide a detailed description,” Bosenko said. “She was cooperative and courageous during the interviews.”
Saying he had to protect the integrity of the investigation, Bosenko declined to provide many new details about the case, including whether Papini told investigators she had been moved during her captivity. He said “a number of items” of evidence had been collected in Yolo County, but he declined to elaborate. He said investigators have filed search warrants that seek cellphone location data. He said Papini was unable to pick out an SUV that matched the one her captors drove from surveillance video footage from the day she was abducted.
Bosenko said detectives have been speaking with a sketch artist to see if Papini provided enough information to at least try to draw the women’s eyes.
Earlier Wednesday, Bosenko said investigators have no reason to doubt Papini’s story.
“All the information that we have right now, we have no reason to believe that she is making this up,” Bosenko said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.
Bosenko said Papini did not know the two women, and it’s not yet clear why they took her.
“We do not know if it’s related to sex trafficking or the reason for her abduction, or was she specifically targeted or if this was a random abduction,” he said.
On Tuesday, Sherri Papini’s husband, Keith Papini, released a statement to ABC’s “Good Morning America” saying that while Sherri Papini was held captive, her nose was broken and she was starved. He said she was covered in scabs and bruises, a brand was seared into skin and her long, blond hair was “chopped off.”
Bosenko on Wednesday wouldn’t go into detail about what the brand looked like or where it was on Papini’s body, but he said it wasn’t a symbol.
“Was it torture? Was it sending a message? Was it part of control? Some type of punishment? We don’t have that information as to why,” Bosenko told The Bee.
According to her husband, Sherri Papini’s captors threw her from a vehicle on a darkened Yolo County highway, wearing a bag over her head and restrained by chains on her wrists and waist. In a promotional video released Wednesday, Keith Papini tells ABC his wife was chained to something inside the vehicle every time she was moved.
Before Papini was found, investigators said they had spoken with her friends and acquaintances, as well as “people Sherri has had past relationships with” in their efforts to find her. Investigators said they went out of state tracking leads. Detectives have submitted close to 20 search warrants – some of which are sealed – and said they’re examining cellphone records, bank accounts, email and social media profiles.
Investigators have declined to discuss what prompted them to file the search warrants or why detectives have traveled out of state. Bosenko said Wednesday that detectives traveled to Michigan as part of their investigation when she was still missing, but he said that so far none of those earlier leads appear linked to her abduction.
“We haven’t found any relevance relating to her abduction into things from her past or the search of electronic data,” Bosenko said. “We haven’t found anything at this point.”
Keith Papini said Tuesday he was releasing his statement in an effort to put rumors to rest, following rampant online speculation about the events, including whether the abduction could be a hoax.
On Wednesday, Bosenko addressed a widely circulated online post on a now-defunct website called Skinheadz.com that allegedly was signed by a “Sherri Graeff” – Papini’s maiden name.
In the post, the writer said that while growing up in Shasta Lake, she got into two fights with Latinos who targeted her because she was “drug-free, white and proud of my blood and heritage.”
Bosenko said it’s not clear if Papini wrote the post, but he said the fights the author described weren’t noted in any Sheriff’s Office records. Papini’s ex-husband told the Bee this week that the post was written by someone else.
“I can’t say whether the incidents described happened, but we do not have a record of it,” Bosenko told The Bee. “We don’t know if it has any relevance to this case or not.”