(Image Credits: CBS News, Youtube, FBI)
Aged just 15 in 2011, Rachel vanished without a trace, leading to a massive nation-wide search operation with a $5,000 reward attached. Police say she disappeared “on her own will” and went to “great lengths to intentionally conceal her whereabouts.” But why?
Surveillance footage from security cameras at South Brunswick High School in North Carolina show Rachel getting off her school bus and getting into a small and dark-colored car in the parking lot. That was the last time anybody in the small town had seen Rachel before vanishing for 5 years. While clearly floored by this act, her parents had seen the all warning signs. Rachel had run away before, however had always returned within a couple days. This time, Rachel wanted to be gone for good.
During the investigation, investigators found a story she wrote before disappearing in which she expressed a desire to travel to Mexico. Whats more, her friends also told investigators they had heard that Rachel went to Mexico. At one point, investigators stated that she may be with a Hispanic man who is older and works in construction. As a result, the FBI along with the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office, worked tirelessly around several leads in both the U.S. and Mexico, FBI Special Agent Rich Novelli said. But the investigations were going nowhere.
The FBI had even offered a $5,000 reward for any information in Rachel's disappearance. After years of coming up empty handed, both parents and investigators began to lose hope. ‘If Rachel sees this or someone that is associated with Rachel sees this — her family just wants to know that she’s okay, her family just wants her to know that they miss her and they love her,’ Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Candi West said on behalf of Rachel’s parents, Kenneth and Kathy Owens. But at last, in 2014, the FBI received a tip that would lead to a huge breakthrough in the investigation.
After a tough 5-year investigation, the FBI finally cracked it. Around noon on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, investigators found Rachel, now 21-years-old, living in Columbus, Ohio, over 600 miles away from where she was last spotted. "Sheriff John Ingram, along with investigators from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, is delighted to announce that Rachel Natacha Owens has been located and is safe," the release from sheriff's office spokeswoman Emily Flax said. But when they finally located her, investigators could barely recognize her.
Rachel gave herself a new name, dyed her hair and even used a false date of birth before she was discovered by the FBI. The police stated that Rachel, “went to great lengths to intentionally conceal her whereabouts, even assuming a false identity and date of birth,” WNCN news reported. But why take such extreme measures? What was she running from?
Police say that Rachel orchestrated her own disappearance. "There is no foul play in Rachel’s disappearance and no charges will be pursued at this time." In some ways, the investigators were relieved. After all, nine times out of ten a missing person is found dead. "Some people assumed you are never going to find her because ... you're chasing a ghost," FBI Special Agent Rich Novelli reported. "Thankfully none of us gave up."
Last Friday, FBI Special Agent Rich Novelli met with Owens’ family and informed them that she was found alive and safe, adding that now they can “move on with rebuilding their relationship.” Strangely, the authorities have declined to disclose what may have ultimately led to the young woman fleeing her parents and five siblings (whom she made no attempts to stay in touch with). What are they trying to hide from them?
Also not necessarily understood is who Rachel Natacha Owens left with on the day she was observed getting into a car by a parking lot, how as a teen she managed to survive and at what cost?
Also not necessarily understood is who Rachel Natacha Owens left with on the day she was observed getting into a car by a parking lot, how as a teen she managed to survive and at what cost? At this point it isn’t clear whether or not a reunion will take take place. Who knows if they can find any semblance of normalcy, but there certainly seems to be plenty of relationship building ahead for this estranged family.
Novelli said they had “worked tirelessly” along with the officers from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina to track down Rachel. The Brunswick County Sheriff's Office thanked all of the agencies that insisted in the investigation and for those who submitted tips that led to finding Owens. A spokesperson from Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said: “Sheriff [John] Ingram and the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office are extremely grateful to all of those who submitted tips and leads to detectives that ultimately led to finding Rachel.”
And yet there are still so many unresolved questions. Who was the person who picked her up from school? Why did she end up in Ohio of all places? What was she running from in the first place? Hopefully, if all parties are willing, Rachel can work through her problems with her family now that they can be reunited.