A distraught mum is begging police to find her young daughter after she mysteriously vanished almost one month ago.
Cheryl Walker last spoke to her daughter Lateche Norris on November 5 after the 20-year-old called from a stranger’s phone to tell her she had gotten into a fight with her boyfriend, Joseph Smith, 25.
The couple, who started dating in April, had moved to California from Indiana earlier in the year but Lateche had returned home after a couple of months.
On Halloween, Ms Walker told NBC’s Dateline her daughter returned to her boyfriend in San Diego, despite the mum begging her not to amid concerns about her relationship.
“I regret not stopping her,” she said.
When Lateche called her mum from the stranger’s phone just days later, Ms Walker was able to gather that her daughter and Joseph had visited a 7-Eleven the night before and got into an argument.
Ms Walker told Dateline she didn’t ask where her daughter’s phone was but urged her to call back.
“She always called me back, always,” Ms Walker told the publication.
“And she was very resourceful. If her phone was dead, she would’ve found a way to charge it. Or call me from someone’s phone like that day.”
When she didn’t hear back from the 20-year-old, Ms Walker said she told herself that her daughter was an adult now and didn’t initially worry.
But when several days went by and she didn’t hear from Lateche or Joseph, the mum said she began to panic and filed a missing persons report with San Diego Police on November 10.
“I was very worried,” Ms Walker told The Independent.
“I allowed her a bit of time and now I regret that. I waited another four days before I called the police department.”
Disappointed in the police response, Ms Walker, her husband and Lateche’s dad all flew out to California to search for the 20-year-old.
She has since plastered missing posters all throughout the city and in a Facebook group launched to help find Lateche, who is an aspiring tattoo artist.
Lateche is 'just as important as Gabby Petito', mum says
In a heartbreaking post to social media on Sunday, Ms Walker said her “daughter is just as important as Gabby Petito”.
Petito’s face was splashed across media outlets for months earlier this year after she vanished during a cross-country van trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. Petito was later found strangled to death and Laundrie shot and killed himself, police say.
“As if what happened to that sweet girl wasn’t heartbreaking enough…the true tragedy is that you learned NOTHING from it that helps prevent this from happening again,” she said, appearing to point her comments in the direction of police.
San Diego PD Spokesperson Lieutenant Adam Sharki confirmed to Dateline last week that Lateche’s case is an active and ongoing missing persons investigation.
However, he said officers do not believe she’s “at risk”.
“We just don’t have enough information at this point,” Lt Sharki said.
“We’re still working to pinpoint the exact time and place she was last seen. Any tips are helpful at this point so we can piece it together.”
Boyfriend fails to contact family
Ms Walker said Lateche and Joseph had planned to “rough it” for a couple of days and live in a tent on the beach before he started a new construction job.
“My daughter isn’t a new, voluntary member of your homeless community,” she said.
“I'm not judging the homeless, they are humans and deserve a much greater quality of life!
“I’m only saying, I KNOW her... she would more likely devise a plan on how to help make a change vs acclimate to that environment of free will,” the mum said, vowing to keep looking until they can find Lateche.
Mr Smith has not returned any of the family's attempts to contact him despite appearing to be active on social media, local publications report.
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