CONWAY, N.H. - Authorities investigating the disappearance of Abigail Hernandez, a 15-year-old New Hampshire girl who returned safely to her family nine months after vanishing on her way home from school, have released new photos and are asking for the public's help.
Investigators are checking surveillance video from local businesses in Conway and are asking residents if they saw a woman wearing a striped sweater, black pants and carrying a camouflage drawstring bag between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the day Hernandez was reunited with her family. Police told CBS Boston the teen was wearing that outfit, which they released photos of, when she returned.
So far, the teen's return is cloaked in just as much mystery as her Oct. 9, 2013 disappearance after she left Kennett High School in Conway.
The family has asked for privacy, but in a brief statement, State Attorney General Joseph Foster quoted Abigail's mother, Zenya Hernandez, as saying, "today we are the happiest people on earth."
Police said Hernandez left school on the day of her disappearance at the normal time and walked the usual route toward her house, sending several texts between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. But she never made it home.
Police revealed several months ago that she had written home to her mother. When the letter surfaced, FBI agent Kieran Ramsey said there was the possibility that Hernandez, who turned 15 a week after disappearing, had run away but that someone could be coercing her into staying away. Police have not revealed the contents of the letter.
Foster said the criminal investigation into Abigail's disappearance continues. After she vanished, police said they had no evidence to suggest anything suspicious and were treating her disappearance as a missing-person's case. In Conway, rescuers fanned out for days over the heavily forested terrain that surrounds the town house where Hernandez lives with her mother. Police also searched by air, stopped traffic and handed out fliers, and used boats on the Saco River and Pudding Pond.
Authorities said Tuesday that they, too, have many questions surrounding the disappearance and return of Hernandez.
Residents of Conway are also looking for answers.
"The truth often clarifies a lot of things. And will prevent rumors," Jameson Proko, who works at a sporting good store in North Conway, told the Associated Press.
Joe Downs, the other of a gift shop in the town, said he remembers the effect the teen's disappearance had on the community. The thought that someone could snatch a child sent shudders down the spines of people in the northern New Hampshire town that relies heavily on family-oriented tourism.
"I don't know how much this cost the town but somebody should come clean about what happened," Downs said of the heavy law enforcement effort. "They didn't find her; she came home on her own, from what I know."
"I want to know where she was, where she's been for nine months," Downs said. "It should have been figured out. Everybody wants to know the truth."
Police Chief Edward Wagner said the search cost his department more than $20,000, a third of his annual overtime budget, and that didn't include hours worked by ranking officers who don't get overtime.
At Kennett High School on Tuesday, Principal Neal Moylan pulled together summer school students to see how they were handling the news.
"These are young people who've gone through a whole range of emotions this past year," Moylan said.
"Everybody wonders what's going on," Moylan said. "We're patient. We're going to stay out of the way and let the professionals do their job and when it's time for us to do our job, we'll be here."