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A missing Tennessee teenager, who authorities once believed was in “serious risk” of danger, has been found safe in Alabama.
Samson Police pulled the teen over Friday around 1:30 a.m. after noticing she was driving a car with a tail light out and expired tags, according to a statement from the department.
After running her information through the National Crime Information Center, the two police officers discovered she was listed as a “missing endangered juvenile.”
Police Chief Jimmy Hill told AL.com that Westbrook, who was alone in the car along with her dog, told the officers she had been on her way to the beach.
“She seemed fine,” Hill said. “We asked her if she needed anything and she said she was OK.”
Hill said Westbrook told officers that she had been planning to go to the beach “to enjoy herself.”
“She said she had just turned 18 and was free,” he said.
Daphne was taken to the Samson Police department, where an investigator from Hamilton County, Tennessee—where the missing person case originated—spoke to her, but “no hold on her was justified” since she was 18 years old and she was allowed to leave.
The Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release earlier this year that Daphne had been kidnapped by her father, John Oliver Westbrook, in October of 2019 after she failed to return to her Tennessee home from a weekend visit with him.
“Daphne is being held against her will, unable to communicate with the outside world,” authorities said at the time. “Our investigation shows she is endangered both physically and mentally.”
Daphne took to Facebook herself on Saturday and denied she had ever been kidnapped.
“I was not kidnapped!!!! I just ran away from home, chill out people and leave my family alone!,” she wrote.
She later posted a video of herself in what appeared to be a hotel room, along with her dog, saying “in case you wanted evidence that it’s me,” after some people on social media had questioned whether the initial post had been made by the 18-year-old.
In a statement of their own, the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office said they were glad Daphne had been found safely, but that the investigation was not over.
“We are thankful Daphne is safe and no longer being held by her father. It is especially gratifying to be able to tell her mom that Daphne is free and no longer being hidden,” the statement said. “This doesn’t change our goal to find and prosecute John Westbrook. Our investigation remains active and we expect new developments within the next couple of weeks.”
Melydia Clewell, chief of staff for the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office, told Oxygen.com in March that the search for the teen in the years after she had disappeared had been complicated by her father’s IT skills. Prosecutors have said John is an expert in security, blockchain technology and bitcoin, which had made it easier for him to travel across the country with his daughter undetected.
According to Clewell, John even likened himself to somewhat of a real-life Jason Bourne, drawing from the fictional movie character’s ability to stay one step ahead of authorities, and had referred to himself as “Oscar Bourne.”
“We know he’s generating money through contract work with small businesses who would need computer security, any of those high-tech (services) like blockchain or Bitcoin technology. That’s what he’s doing, and so that’s a very narrow market,” she said at the time.
Investigators believed that John had been keeping his daughter intoxicated either through drugs or alcohol.
“Daphne is increasingly at serious risk of physical and emotional danger and we need your help to find her,” authorities said at the time.
Daphne’s mother, Rhona Curtsinger, told local station WRCB that the last communication she had with her daughter was during the weekend of Oct. 4, 2019. Daphne had texted her asking if it was okay if she was a few hours late coming home from the visit with her dad because she wanted to go on a walk with her dog and a friend. She never returned home.
After she was spotted by police on Friday, Daphne declined to talk to her mother and said the two had disagreed after she decided to drop out of tenth grade, AL.com reports.
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