A teenager who mysteriously vanished from rural Ohio last week has been found “safe” — leaving her home of her own free will, authorities later learned.
Madison Noel Bell was found unharmed in an undisclosed location, the Highland County Sheriff’s Department announced in a press release on Saturday.
Sheriff Donald Barerra said Bell "left to start a new life,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The teenager reportedly told investigators it was her decision to leave and her current location was withheld by law enforcement.
Bell is 18 years old and is not considered a runaway because she is not a minor.
“Ms. Bell has been located and she is okay,” Southern Ohio Crime Stoppers wrote in a statement.
The teenager was located with a “person of interest” in the case but authorities were unable to confirm if the individual was the same person law enforcement released images of late last week, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Bell’s family also confirmed the high school senior was located safe.
“We ask that the public and media respect our privacy during this difficult time while we are emotionally raw,” they said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “We are just relieved to know Maddie is alive and not in physical danger. Thank you to every single person who looked for Maddie including Rescue 101 Search and Rescue, Texas EquuSearch, the amazing members of our local community, and volunteers that came from other areas to search for our daughter.”
Bell was last seen on May 17, shortly after telling her family she was headed out the door for a tanning salon appointment. Her car was found unlocked and with the keys still in the ignition, along with her phone, in a church parking lot across the street from the salon.
It’s unclear why the teen decided to abruptly vanish without telling anyone. No arrests have been made in the case and no charges have been announced, the Highland County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office confirmed with Oxygen.com.
“[Charges] are not pending at this time,” Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins said.
However, Collins noted authorities are still reviewing the circumstances surrounding Bell’s disappearance.
“They aren’t done investigating,” Collins added. “There are a few things the officers are still looking into.”
The teenager’s family said law enforcement left “no rock unturned” during the extensive search that nearly spanned a week. The investigation into Bell’s disappearance gained nationwide exposure and was featured on A&E’s “Live PD.” A $15,000 reward was also issued for information related to Bell's whereabouts.
“Thanks to friends and family who have supported us during the most difficult time of our lives,” the statement added. “Every single effort to find Maddie has touched us and we appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.”
The 18 year old’s mother and father had previously issued desperate public pleas for Bell to come home.
“I’ve shed a lot of tears, and sometimes I haven’t shed any because I feel like I’ve just cried everything I have out," Melissa Bell told Ohio radio station WKRC.
“Whoever has her, bring her home to her family," the woman's mother also said at the time, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "This is not right. You don’t take her and not bring her home. She needs to be back home where she’s safe.”
The Highland County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the case on Tuesday.
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