Authorities in New Mexico are hunting for a runaway sister trio they believe may have fled their adoptive parents in search of their biological mother.
The three girls disappeared Monday, leaving a note for their adoptive parents in Truth or Consequences, N.M., explaining that they ran away because of the abusive care they were receiving, Sgt. Glenn Hamilton, a spokesman for the Sierra County Sheriff's Office, told ABC News.
"There were some allegations of mistreatment by the adoptive parents," Hamilton said, "which obviously, we're looking into." The note, he added, indicated that the adoptive father, Dan Dickson, had hit and pushed the girls.
While describing Dickson as an "extremely strict disciplinarian," Hamilton said authorities had never been called to the Dickson house about allegations of abuse to his biological children or foster children. Dickson's wife, Donna, denied that any abuse had occurred during an interview with ABC News.
"Nothing ever happened," she said. "Nobody was being beat, nobody was being starved."
The sisters have been identified as Mercedes Marie Lara-Dickson, 14; Stacy Ellen Lara-Dickson, 13; and Elizabeth Sue Lara-Dickson, 7. All four have brown hair and eyes. Mercedes has braces on her teeth.
Because the girls apparently ran away, the case did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert. Authorities did, however, issue an endangered persons advisory because of the girls' young ages.
Mercedes' 15-year-old boyfriend, Hamilton said, has provided police with the most information regarding the girls' whereabouts. Jose Luis Villa-Diaz told police Tuesday that he drove the three girls early Monday morning from Truth or Consequences about 75 miles south to Las Cruces, N.M.
The teen told authorities that he dropped the three girls off at a gas station to people he described as "family members," who left in a blue minivan, perhaps a Ford Aerostar.
Hamilton said the boyfriend has been "cooperative, but reluctant," adding that authorities believe he drove the sisters to Las Cruces, but have doubts about whether he delivered them to biological family members. Villa-Diaz was expected to be interviewed by police again today.
Authorities were tipped off to the boyfriend after Dickson told police he saw a silver Mustang speeding from the area early Monday morning. Dickson later concluded that the driver was Mercedes' boyfriend, Donna Dickson said.
The three girls have lived with the Dicksons since Aug. 11, 2006, when Donna Dickson says, the girls were taken from their biological mother after police received a domestic violence call.
"They found kids and there was no food in the house, and the kids were dirty and there were rat feces everywhere," Donna Dickson said.
Police told ABC News they are trying to verify exactly how the girls ended up living with the Dicksons.
Donna Dickson also said that Mercedes had always planned to return to her biological mother. Recently, the 14-year-old had been grounded for skipping school, she said.
Authorities are searching for the biological mother, who Hamilton said has frequently moved around New Mexico. Donna Dickson said there's also a possibility that the girls may have crossed the border into Mexico.
"It's always something we have to look at, especially with some of the extended family members we've been able to identify with ties to Mexico," said Hamilton, who was particularly concerned about the safety of the youngest sister.
"There's not too many 7-year-olds who decide to run away with their 13- or 14-year-old sister," he said.
The Dicksons, meanwhile, remain by the phone, hoping for a call from police indicating they have found the girls.
"It's terrible upsetting," Donna Dickson said. "My husband and I are besides ourselves. The worst thing a parent can go through is to not know if your kids are safe."