Missing 14-year-old found safe in CaliforniaPosted: Updated:
The parents of a 14-year-old girl, who disappeared for more than 24 hours Monday, are speaking out after learning their daughter ended up in California with a man she met playing a video game.
Emma Tobin, 14, of Hamden, disappeared late Sunday night and left a note that had friends and family concerned.
Tobin's parents said a 28-year-old man flew to Connecticut from California to meet their daughter in the middle of the night, underneath an overpass near their house in Hamden.
"I hope no parent has to ever go through this, because this has been the worst nightmare ever," said Tobin's mother Sarah Tobin.
Sarah Tobin said she is exhausted after a massive search for her daughter, who was found in Sacramento, CA.
Emma Tobin is a straight-A student who was about to begin her senior year at the Sound School in New Haven, which is a magnet school specializing in marine science.
Sarah Tobin said Emma is a good child, and she never suspected she would run away.
"I'm a stay at home mom and I've always been on the internet, and on the PS3, and I've always been watching her and hovering over her," Sarah Tobin said. "I don't let her walk around the block by herself yet or take the bus... and still some man managed to come in our life."
Sarah Tobin said when she woke up Monday morning, she noticed that her daughter was missing and in her bedroom was a 30-page letter. The letter was written like a suicide note, according to her mother.
"I still can't believe that this happened," Sarah Tobin said
Police didn't say what the note contained.
A large scale search was launched by police with all-terrain vehicles, helicopters and K-9s. A Silver Alert was also issued for Emma Tobin.
Hours later, investigators determined that Emma Tobin was nowhere near her home, but in California.
The man, who was later identified as Nathan Salas of Merced, that she met while playing computer games took her to Laguardia Airport in New York, where they flew to California, her mother said.
"She's manipulated, brainwashed by him and she had been lying to us for months," Sarah Tobin said. "And we had no idea."
California officials said they were actually at the airport waiting to pick them up after Hamden police found Salas' number on Emma Tobin's cell phone.
Her parents said Emma Tobin met him on a computer game called Feral Heart, which is a role-playing game that allows you to connect with other players. She also started talking to him through a web camera on the PlayStation 3 and texting him on her phone.
Emma Tobin also started using an app called Kik to send untraceable text messages and would change her iPhone password, so her parents couldn't track her.
"Maybe you think it's safe, and you're watching them, but I would say keep everything in your common area and your common living room, don't let them have it in their bedroom," Sarah Tobin said.
Eyewitness News sat down with an internet safety expert to learn more about the dangers of these apps and gaming devices
"Set up ground rules with your kids before they start," said Scott Driscoll of Internet Safety Concepts. "No sharing personal information, you never share it."
Driscoll said web apps like Kik and live chat on Playstation can be very dangerous.
"I started learning about her home life and she told me how her father had anger issues and her mother was an alcoholic," said Salas from the Sacramento County Jail.
Police said Salas lied to his family and told them Emma Tobin was of legal age.
"I put other people's problems ahead of my own and just experiencing everything that she was telling me and seeing that it was actually true," Salas said. "It wasn't just complaining. I felt in my heart I just couldn't leave her there."
The Tobins said they are glad their daughter is safe, and look forward to her home coming. They told Eyewitness News that they hope by sharing their story, it stops something such as this from happening someplace else.
"Kik is a mobile app and it can be used to communicate, share pictures, its another messaging program, the problem parents have is it doesn't show up on their bills, so they're not even sure if their child is using it," Driscoll said.
Parents can keep their children safe by using the following methods, according to Driscoll:
- Monitor all online and smartphone activity
- Make sure they know not to give out any personal information
- Pay attention to the questions and call police if anything seems suspicious
The Tobins' told Eyewitness News that they haven't gotten to talk to their daughter yet, but said she is being taken care of by the state in California.
They are hoping to get her brought back home this week. And when she arrives home, Sarah Tobin said she plans on keeping her daughter's phone and computers of out her bedroom.
As for Salas, he was arrested and charged with concealing a child without parents' consent. He is being held on $100,000 bond at the Sacramento County Jail.
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