San Diego police release last known footage of missing Indiana woman with boyfriend

Lateche Norris, 20, was reported missing after a frantic 5 November phone call to her mother back in Indiana

Sheila Flynn
Friday 03 December 2021 20:29
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San Diego police have released the last known video of missing 20-year-old Lateche Norris – a short surveillance clip showing the Indiana teenager with her boyfriend in a downtown 7-Eleven on 4 November.

The following day, Ms Norris called her mother from a stranger’s phone to say she’d argued with her older boyfriend, Joseph Smith, and ask if anyone had heard from him. Ms Norris told her mother she loved her and said she’d call the following day.

That’s the last time her mother, Cheryl Walker, heard her voice.

Ms Norris had flown to San Diego to see Mr Smith, who had been struggling with substance abuse and who the teen feared might be suicidal, Ms Walker told The Independent. The pair had met in April, before Ms Norris – described by her mother as a trusting “bright ball of energy” – had even graduated from high school.

Lateche Norris had just graduated from high school when she learned over the summer that her older boyfriend was an addict

Ms Walker reported her missing on 9 November after Ms Norris failed to call back. Along with her husband and Ms Norris’ father, she flew to California to search for the young aspiring tattoo artist.

The footage released on Thursday by San Diego police shows Ms Norris and Ms Smith entering a 7-Eleven at 11.25pm on 4 November – a day before her last call to Ms Walker. Both are wearing backpacks, and Mr Smith asks a question of the employee behind the counter before they leave.

“Norris was wearing a zippered black hooded sweatshirt over a navy t-shirt, khaki pants, black skater-type shoes with white trim, and was carrying a black and white checkered backpack. NORRIS has visible tattoos on the backs of her fingers,” San Diego police tweeted, adding that she is a mixed-race female with brown hair, brown eyes who stands 5’8” and weights about 156 pounds.

“Smith was wearing a long-sleeve Nike t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His shirt has a white Nike ‘swoosh’ in the front center just below the neckline with an apparent unidentified logo just beneath it,” police tweeted.

“He was wearing black or dark blue jeans and the same black, skater-type shoes as Norris. Smith also had a black and gray backpack. Smith has several tatoos on the left side of his neck, down his left arm and hand, and on both legs.”

The 25-year-old has brown hair, hazel eyes and is six feet tall, weighing about 185 pounds, police said.

Ms Walker told The Independent that the family wasn’t thrilled when Ms Norris brought home Mr Smith and announced that they were dating; not only was he older but his behaviour also gave cause for concern. Ms Norris’ stepfather suspected drug use.

“He just had these mannerisms that, once you’ve lived a little longer, you can tell when things aren’t right,” Ms Walker told The Independent.

She said Ms Norris “doesn’t have any prior experience with addiction in her family or anyone so grew up with ... she’s never used drugs. She wasn’t familiar enough with it to understand. She just thought he had a lot of anxiety.”

Early in the summer, however, the then-19-year-old found out her boyfriend was an addict and gave him an ultimatum: Either they break up or he clean up his act.

He made an effort, it seems, and Ms Walker says he was flown out a facility in San Diego. He didn’t stay long, however, and began calling Ms Norris from California multiple times a day, which is when things really took a turn.

“She just said to me, ‘He’s going to end up killing himself, and I can’t live with that. I have to go out there because if I’m there he won’t do it,’” Ms Walker tells The Independent.

The Indiana mother had noticed worrying, controlling behaviour before; Mr Smith cut up Ms Norris’ ID, locked her out of her social media accounts and insisted on “phone-free” periods – classic signs of isolation often employed by domestic abusers.

Only now is Ms Walker finding out more about Mr Smith’s violent and tumultuous history; when he was 18, he went on a rampage with friends, vandalising 16 cars with a baseball bat and setting three cars on fire. He was sentenced to a year in jail, completion of a substance abuse programme and payment of $37,000 in restitution.

“To me, that doesn’t say teenage boys having fun; to me, that says rage,” Ms Walker tells The Independent.

She says she’s not sure whether Ms Norris was aware of that particular element of her boyfriend’s history.

“She’s not judgmental if you went and did something stupid,” Ms Walker says, adding that Ms Norris could have known and forgiven him because she was so enamoured of the older man.

Ms Walker has undertaken a dogged social media campaign to find her daughter, working with advocacy groups and contacting the press, partially fuelled by the response when Gabby Petito went missing and armchair detectives rushed to help.

“My daughter is just as important as Gabby Petito. As if what happened to that sweet girl wasn’t heartbreaking enough.” she wrote on Facebook.

Some of her efforts and flyers have attracted scam ransom demands, which law enforcement warned her about, she said - but she told The Independent she is determined to do anything within her power to find Ms Norris.

“I’m just not going to stop until we find her ... For the most part, just survival mode’s kicked in,” she told The Independent. “I’ve got to keep suppressing most of the emotion and stay in critical thinking mode so that I can be of use to my daughter.”

Anybody with information related to the case should contact the San Diego Police Department Communications Division at 619-531-2000 and reference Case #21-501043, investigators tweeted.

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