Husband of 'Super Mom' on Getting the Call Missing Wife Was Alive: She Was 'Screaming'

"It was my wife screaming in the background," Keith Papini told "20/20."

ByABC News
December 2, 2016, 7:33 AM

— -- The husband of Sherri Papini, the California mom who was missing for three weeks after allegedly being kidnapped while out jogging, described the heart-wrenching moment he learned his wife had been found alive.

Sherri Papini, 34, went missing on Nov. 2 and was found alive on Thanksgiving Day on the side of a road roughly 150 miles from the Papini family home in Redding, California.

It was very early that morning on Nov. 24 that Keith Papini said his home phone rang.

“It was my wife screaming in the background, yelling my name, and a CHP [California High Patrol] officer that seemed somewhat confused at the moment, like, ‘What is going on?’” Keith Papini told ABC's “20/20” in an exclusive interview. “And [the officer] said, ‘I need you to be calm. I need you to be calm.’ … I already know it’s her. I can tell her voice.”

At first, Keith Papini said he didn’t know what going on, whether his wife was hurt or not. He can only hear her screaming.

“I get the phone and, [I said], ‘Oh my God, honey.’ And of course she's screaming,” Keith Papini said. “It's very emotional. And, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you, Oh my God, you're here. You're back. Where are you?’ And then the phone gets taken away from her. Like, super quick.”

Getting that phone call and hearing his wife screaming made him feel “very mixed emotion[s],” Keith Papini said.

“I'm panicked but I'm happy because at this point this is the first time I've heard her voice,” he added. “I know she's alive.”

Watch Keith Papini's emotional interview, in which he describes searching for his wife and then reuniting with her for the first time, on ABC's "20/20" FRIDAY, Dec. 2 at 10 p.m. ET.

Soon after getting the call, Keith Papini said he told the couple’s two children their mother had been found. He said he told their 4-year-old son, Tyler, first.

“I sat him down, and I was on my knees and he was standing up,” Keith Papini said. “And I said, ‘You know what, buddy? I found mom,’ and he got the biggest grin.’”

He then told their 2-year-old daughter, Violet. “I wanted to do it one by one,” Keith Papini said.

Keith Papini told ABC News in an exclusive statement this week that when he was reunited with his wife at the hospital, her face was "covered in bruises ranging from yellow to black because of repeated beatings," the bridge of her nose had been broken and her signature long blond hair had been chopped off. He added that his wife weighed only 87 pounds when she was found.

On the day she was found, Keith Papini said his wife told him she had been in a vehicle with her alleged captors and that one of her arms was chained to something inside the car.

“She was bound ... she had a metal chain around her waist," he said. "She had a bag over her head ... she was chained anytime she was in a vehicle."

Keith Papini said his wife told him that at some point her alleged captors stopped the vehicle and opened the door. “They cut something” that freed her restraint that was holding her in the vehicle, he said, then pushed her out onto the road and drove away.

"She screamed so much, she’s coughing up blood from the screaming, trying to get somebody to stop [on the road]," he said. "And again just another sign of how my wife is, she’s so wonderful. She’s saying, 'Well maybe people aren’t stopping because I have a chain that looks like I broke out of prison' so she tried to tuck in her chain under her clothes."

Authorities said they have interviewed Sherri Papini twice about her ordeal and are still hunting for the alleged kidnappers.

Based on Sherri Papini's description of her alleged captors, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told ABC News that authorities are searching for two Hispanic female adults armed with a gun and driving a dark SUV.

One suspect, the younger of the two, was described as having long curly hair and a thick accent, pierced ears and thin eyebrows, Bosenko said, while the other woman, the older one, was described as having straight black hair with some grays and thick eyebrows.

Bosenko also told ABC News that Sherri Papini had "branding" on her body that contained "a message." He confirmed the details in Keith Papini’s account of his wife’s ordeal and said police have no reason to doubt her story.

"So far, we are investigating this as a kidnapping-abduction, and everything that she is providing us thus far is indicating that," he said.

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