PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Two young sisters who were at the center of police search have been found safe, Phoenix police say. Amina and Amanirena Sterling had been missing since Saturday evening. Sgt. Ann Justus said shortly after 12:30 p.m. Sunday that they had been located and were not hurt.
Law enforcement descended on the area of 17th and Missouri avenue early Sunday morning and spent hours looking for the little girls. According to Justus, somebody in the area approached the officers during the search and said they thought they saw the Amina and Amanirena at a nearby YMCA with an adult. "Officers responded to that location and they located both girls happy, healthy, and playing," Justus said. The woman who was with the sisters said she found them Saturday night. "She is vaguely familiar with these children and this apartment complex," Justus explained The woman, whom Justus described as "extremely cooperative," tried to take the girls home but was unable. Justus declined to elaborate on the reason for that.
The good Samaritan took the little girls to her apartment to sleep and then out to play Sunday morning. "She was not aware that anyone had reported them missing or that we were out here actively looking for them," Justus said. "She doesn't watch the news, she said, and she doesn't have social media."
Justus explained that she saw Amina and Amanirena herself. "They are in great shape," she said. Paramedics took a look at the girls as a precaution but found nothing if concern.
"I think this is the best possible resolution we could have had in a case like this," Justus said. "It is a relief for me to stand up here and tell you that they are safe."
The search for the sisters
The Phoenix Police Department tweeted about the search for the girls just after 7 a.m., saying Amina and Amanirena's mom last saw them were last seen in the area of 17th and Missouri avenues at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
PPD is asking for your help in locating 3 and 4 year old Amina and Amanirena Sterling who were last seen in the area of 16th Ave and Missouri last night. They were both last seen wearing orange dresses. If you have seen them please call Phoenix Police pic.twitter.com/GaCsnh4Kxg— Phoenix Police (@PhoenixPolice) October 10, 2021
Justus said the girls' mother called the police at about 2 a.m. She said officers had been "actively searching" for the sisters since then. According to police, the girls' mom was the last person to see them at the family's Phoenix apartment. Well before the sun was up on Sunday, Arizona's Family crews spotted a police helicopter overhead in the neighborhood, and officers were going door-to-door, showing residents pictures on their phones and asking questions.
Leoshie Sterling, the girls' aunt, told Arizona's Family that the sisters' parents are not together. She said the girls live with their father (her brother), but their mother was watching them Saturday while he was out of town. She also said a neighbor believed they saw them playing by their mom's car at about 10 p.m. Saturday. "Apparently their mom was asleep," she said. "When she woke up, she noticed they were missing." Leoshie said she got the call about her nieces at about 2 a.m.
Justus said numerous agencies were involved in the search for Amina and Amanirena, including officers other other cities, deputies from MCSO, and the FBI, all of which are part of the Arizona Child Abduction Response Team or Arizona CART. "We had every resource available to us out here," she said.
"Now that we have found them, we can take a breath and we are transitioning to determine if the elements of child neglect in this case," Justus said. The Department of Child Safety is looking at the situation and will determine the safest place for Amina and Amanirena.
Investigators still have many questions about what happened between Saturday evening and Sunday morning. There is a significant gap of time between when the girls' mother said she saw them Saturday evening and when she called the police to report them missing. "Our detectives are asking those questions and we are going to get those answers."