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A worried mother is pleading for help while maintaining that her missing daughter who followed her "troubled" boyfriend across the country is just as important as Gabby Petito, a murder victim whose disappearance captivated the world earlier this year.
Lateche Norris, 20, was last seen on Nov. 4 at a 7-Eleven store in San Diego following weeks of fighting with her 26-year-old boyfriend Joseph Smith, 10 News San Diego reports. She spoke to her mother on the phone the next day. She has not been heard from since.
Police were first called to an incident between Norris and Smith after they got into a fight at a Safeway grocery store in Los Gatos on Sept. 1, San Diego outlet CBS 8 reports. Police arrested Norris on charges of domestic violence charges at that time. Days later, the pair moved out of an apartment and flew to Indiana. On Sept. 27, they got into a fight in that state before both Norris and Smith were arrested on charges of misdemeanor domestic battery, according to CBS 8.
On Nov. 1, after some time apart, Norris flew to San Diego to meet up with Smith again.
“My daughter followed a troubled man out here that she loves," her mother Cheryl Walker posted on Facebook last week.
She also disputed law enforcement's prior claims that her daughter was not at risk.
“My daughter is just as important as Gabby Petito! As if what happened to that sweet girl wasn't heart breaking enough... the True tragedy is that you learned NOTHING from it that helps prevent this from happening again!” Walker wrote.
Police said on Monday that Norris is now considered at risk, according to a statement obtained by CBS 8. Walker said she has not been able to reach Smith. She urged the police and the community to investigate her daughter’s disappearance more rigorously.
“This is the guy that introduced domestic violence charges in to her life!" she wrote of Smith, adding that “Lateche Norris has an army behind her and we're only going to grow until she's found and you do something to prevent this from happening to anyone else.”
The case does possess some parallels to the Petito case, which also spanned several states and involved domestic violence allegations. Bodycam footage showed Petito, 22, and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie talking to police following a domestic violence call shortly before she vanished. That video prompted national conversations about domestic violence and how it's treated by police officers.
Petito vanished in early September while on a road trip with Laundrie, 23, kicking off a national search and inspiring worldwide interest. Her family reported her missing more than a week after Laundrie left the couple’s cross-country trip and returned to his parents' home in North Port, Florida without her. A few days later, he himself vanished and his family's apparent reluctance to provide information fueled anger from the public and even inspired "Dog the Bounty Hunter" to get involved.
Petito's remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19 and an autopsy revealed that she had been strangled to death. Investigators determined that Laundrie died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after his partial skeletal remains were found in Florida in October.
Walker says that, like Petito, her daughter's "spirt is a force to be reckoned with!"
"She's an ally, she's an advocate, she's the girl who was more excited to work with special needs students than she was for prom or homecoming," she posted on Facebook. "She's a warrior, she won't back down from those who oppress others."
Norris is described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 160 pounds with dark brown/black hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing black leggings, a black sweatshirt, black and white tennis shoes, and carrying a black and white checkered backpack.
Anyone with any information is urged to the Missing Persons Unit at 619-531-2277. You can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477.
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