The ransom money offered for the safe release of Sherri Papini went unclaimed, so now the anonymous donor may use his wealth to help the Redding-area mom and her family recover after she was found Thanksgiving morning, according to the man who coordinated the effort.
The donor “will support the family in any way he can to ensure they receive the necessary treatment for their recovery,” said Cameron Gamble, a Redding-area man who describes himself as a defense contractor who works with missionary groups and trains government employees on how to avoid being taken hostage overseas.
Gamble said the benefactor returned the ransom money to the bank but still wants to help the family. How much money they might receive is “really up to him at this point,” Gamble said in a Monday phone interview with The Sacramento Bee.
Papini, 34, surfaced on a Yolo County highway early Thanksgiving morning after vanishing Nov. 2, more than three weeks earlier.
The donor offered an undisclosed ransom to Papini’s kidnappers in exchange for her safe return. Gamble at that time offered to pay the money discreetly without involving law enforcement.
The deal expired on Wednesday. At that point, Gamble said it would become a six-figure reward paid to whoever brought in her abductors.
Gamble said that while it may never be known what prompted her release, it was likely no coincidence she was released 24 hours after the donor announced the ransom became a reward.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said last week that he did not believe the ransom played a role and no one called in a tip related to the suspects.
“But there’s only one hero in this. It’s Sherri Papini,” Gamble said. “She found the key to stay alive.”
The ransom was separate from a $50,000 reward offered by local officials and Papini’s family after she disappeared Nov. 2 after going for a jog near her home in Mountain Gate near Redding, a 2 1/2 -hour drive north of Sacramento.
Investigators say Papini was bound with restraints when she was let out of a sport-utility vehicle at around 4:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning near the Interstate 5 interchange in the Yolo County town of Yolo. They say she flagged 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 Bee. “CHP is advising that she is heavily battered.”
A Crescent City woman, Alison Sutton, told the New York Daily News that she called 911 after seeing Papini wave a piece of fabric up and down on the side of the freeway. The driver saw Papini without a jacket on a morning when Sacramento-area temperatures were in the upper 30s.
“When I saw her, it really startled me,” Sutton said. “She was really close to the road, like almost out in traffic.”
Based on Papini’s description, authorities say they are searching for two Latino women armed with a handgun who were in a black SUV.
Papini’s husband, Keith, reported her missing after she didn’t pick up her young children from day care that afternoon, something her family members say was completely out of character for the devoted mom.
The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, which is handling the investigation, hasn’t released any new information about the case since Thursday.