Crime - Sacto 911

Sherri Papini’s sister says family thrilled by her return; questions remain about abduction

The sister of the Redding-area woman who vanished three weeks ago only to be found early Thanksgiving morning on the side of a road in Yolo County says the family is elated and relieved that Sherri Papini has been reunited with them.

“This has been the most amazing Thanksgiving that our family could ever ask for,” Sheila Koester said Friday in a phone interview with The Sacramento Bee. “We’re all very, very, very excited, very, very relieved and just very thankful for getting our Sherri back.”

Koester declined to say whether Sherri Papini, 34, has seen her two young children or if she’s made it back the rural home she shares with her husband, Keith, in Mountain Gate, Shasta County, a mile from where she disappeared after going for a jog on Nov. 2.

“What I can say is that her and Keith have been reunited,” Koester said. “And that they are very happy to be together and they're very thankful for everyone for allowing them to have their privacy and allowing them to recover from their situation that all of us have been in.”

Papini was found around 4:30 a.m. Thursday after she flagged down a driver on Interstate 5 in Yolo County, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said Thursday in a news conference.

Investigators say Papini was bound with restraints when she was let out of a sport-utility vehicle near a freeway interchange in the town of Yolo. They say she was able to flag down a motorist on the freeway near County Road 17.

“CHP is on scene and advised that she is chained to something,” a radio dispatcher told a responding officer Thursday in an audio clip obtained by The Sacramento Bee. “CHP is advising that she is heavily battered.”

Authorities are searching for two women armed with a handgun.

Papini’s husband, Keith, reported Sherri Papini 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.

Bosenko said at a Thursday news conference that Papini was injured during her abduction, but did not provide details on the extent of her injuries. She was treated at a hospital in the Sacramento area and released. Koester said she’s met with her sister, but she declined to provide details about her condition.

The sheriff said police are looking for two Hispanic women driving a dark-colored SUV in connection with the abduction, based on Papini’s description. Authorities have no other information about the captors, including other details of their appearance or clothing.

On Friday, Koester expressed gratitude to investigators, search teams and media outlets for keeping Papini’s story alive. Koester said she’s hopeful her sister’s abductors will be found.

She also thanked the motorist, who hasn’t yet been identified by detectives, who stopped for Papini on the side of the road.

“We appreciate that person stopping and helping her,” she said.

One woman posted on social media after Papini was found to say she saw her on the side of the road and called 911, but didn’t stop.

“I couldn’t stop in time to help you this morning but I did pull over and report to police that I saw you by the road and was certain you needed help,” said Alison Sutton, who posted on a Facebook page dedicated to finding Papini. “I am thankful that someone else was able to pull over safely to help you and that you are safe. God bless you and your family.”

“Thank you very much for alerting the police,” replied Rod Rodriguez III, who says he’s Sherri’s father-in-law. “We greatly appreciate your assistance.”

“I don’t know that my call helped her,” she wrote in a follow-up post. “I am very thankful she is safe and back with her family. This is truly a Thanksgiving to remember.”

Rodriguez didn’t returned a phone message left Friday at his home near Redding. Sutton couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Sacramento Bee on Friday morning requested 911 tapes and dispatch logs from the California Highway Patrol and the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, but the agencies haven’t provided them.

Bosenko, meanwhile, appeared Friday on “Good Morning America,” but he didn’t offer new details about the case. Like Koester, he said Papini was overjoyed to be reunited with her family. “Of course, she was very emotional to be released and hear her husband’s voice and then a few hours later to be reunited with him,” he told the news program.

With little new information being released Friday, various online sleuths have been trying to find out what might have motivated two women to abduct Papini and then let her go.

Before Papini reappeared, investigators said they had spoken with her friends and acquaintances, as well as “people Sherri has had past relationships with” to try to find her. Investigators said they had gone out of state tracking down leads.

Detectives have authored close to 20 search warrants – some of which are sealed – and they 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 Friday he had no new information to release.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow

Related stories from Sacramento Bee