Runaway or Foul Play? Where Is Amber?

Family insists she was grabbed, frustrated police classified her as a runaway.

February 23, 2009, 1:41 PM

Feb. 24, 2009— -- Amber DuBois was getting ready for school the last time her family saw her 11 days ago.

The dark-haired, 14-year-old was sitting at the kitchen table Feb. 13, excited about a baby lamb she was going to purchase for her California high school's Future Farmers of America project. She spoke with a friend on the phone and prepared to head to school.

She never made it.

More than a week later, dozens of community members have continued their search of the Escondido, Calif., area, and the teen's family has hired a private investigator to help with the search, frustrated, they say, that police treated Amber as a runaway -- which officials deny.

"Unfortunately, in my mind, I'm about 98 percent positive she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got abducted by a stranger," her father, Maurice "Moe" DuBois, told

The theories of what exactly happened to Amber are numerous. Police have reported sightings of the teen after her disappearance, while the private investigator says her friends may know more than they're letting on.

Lt. Robert Benton of the Escondido Police Department said it never classified Amber as a runaway but are still considering that as an option, along with foul play. So far, he said, police have gotten several hundred leads.

The FBI has been called in to help with out-of-jurisdiction interviews and technology, including cell phone and text message records.

"At this point," Benton said, "we still don't know."

"Our biggest concern is that she's 14. She's very young. It's not that she's street smart."

DuBois described his only daughter as a "nerd" who got good grades and loved to read, calling her his "angel."

"She's read more books in the last two months than I have in my entire life," he said.

And, above all, Amber was happy. She had talked about getting the lamb since she was in junior high and was very excited that the day had finally arrived, DuBois said, adding that Amber had planned to take several Valentine's Day gifts to school that day for her friends.

"Friday was such an important day for her," Amber's mother, Carrie McGonigle, said. " I'm afraid she just got in to a bad situation."

"I'm convinced she was abducted. I know she's not a runaway."

Sightings: Amber or Mistaken Identity?

Benton of the Escondido Police Department said police have gotten two reports of sightings, one the day after Amber disappeared and one the next day, Sunday. In the second instance, he said, it was reported by a classmate who was positive the girl was Amber.

The Sunday sighting, however, wasn't reported until Tuesday, Feb. 17, because the classmate only learned that Amber was missing when she returned to school, Benton said, adding that the girl has been interviewed more than once.

Private investigator Bill Garcia said he didn't think those sightings were Amber. Neither do her parents. "Unfortunately, she's a bit generic-looking," Garcia said.

DuBois agreed, noting that there's nothing outwardly noticeable about his daughter -- no piercings or flashy hair.

And she was last seen wearing nondescript clothing that could be any teenager's uniform: black pants, black shirt, black hoodie.

McGonigle said she and her daughter had just talked about what the teen would do if someone tried to grab her.

"She said she would kick and hit him," she said.

Her parents, separated for years, have joined together in the search for their daughter. DuBois, who lives more than an hour north of the home Amber shares with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, said he had taken an indefinite leave of absence from his job and is staying in an area hotel.

Garcia said Amber's cell phone was briefly turned on the day after she disappeared but only for a few seconds. Someone tried to dial into her voice mail but the password was rejected and the phone was immediately shut off and has not been turned on again since. Garcia said that brief activity was recorded as coming from the Escondido area.

Benton said that after police picked up the "ping" from the phone, they immediately issued a Reverse 911 -- in which calls are placed to phones in a several-miles radius -- in hopes of finding someone who had spotted her.

Although police had launched a massive search, on foot, with dogs and by air, the physical search was suspended last week. The family continues the search on its own, with volunteers.

Garcia said there doesn't appear to be any clothing missing from Amber's closet, and her debit card has not been used. Maurice DuBois said the cash Amber had is still in her room.

Garcia said they are also keeping a watch on the $200 check she was given to purchase the baby lamb. It has not been cashed.

Amber's immediate family, including her father, her mother and her mother's live-in boyfriend, have all taken and passed polygraph tests, Garcia said.

Garcia said he agrees with Amber's parents that she was abducted. And while he doesn't know who took her, he pointed to friends as possibly knowing more than they let on.

Questioning Everybody

One of Amber's classmates was the last person known to speak with Amber the morning she disappeared.

Garcia, the private investigator, likened his hunch to something not "clicking." He also pointed to a series of phone calls that showed up on Amber's cell phone records. When he called that number, the young man on the other line, he said, denied knowing the teen. But Garcia said he later found out the number reportedly belonged to a boyfriend of Amber's friend.

Benton said they have interviewed Amber's friends several times, as well as other students at the school, and will continue to keep in contact with them as part of the investigation.

No matter what happened to Amber, Maurice DuBois said he just wants her home. He's concerned she may have been taken to Mexico -- the border is about 45 minutes from Escondido. And, if someone has her, he's pleading with that person to let her go.

"I don't want to think about anything else," he said, adding that he's had to avoid joining in on the ground search because he's too afraid of the possibility that they'll stumble across her body.

Said Garcia: "She's just literally disappeared."

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