Missing Indiana woman, 20, found safe in California weeks after she and boyfriend vanished

Lateche Norris’ family reported her missing within days of her 20th birthday; she left home to visit boyfriend

Sheila Flynn
in Denver
Monday 06 December 2021 22:41
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Missing indiana woman Lateche Norris, 20, has been found safe in California just over a month after her mother last spoke to her by phone.

San Diego police said in a weekend release that Ms Norris met with her in person on Saturday and “confirmed” that she is safe.

“Detectives also verified Norris was not and is not the victim of any crime,” the department tweeted. “Ms Norris thanked the public for their concern and asked for privacy.”

The young woman had been reported missing by her family last month in Indiana; her mother, father and stepfather all flew to look for her in California, where she’d gone to see her boyfriend, Joseph Smith, her mother told The Independent last week.

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

Ms Walker launched a social media campaign to find her daughter when she didn’t hear from her for days and then weeks, writing that Ms Norris was “just as important as Gabby Petito,” whose case she’d seen catch the interest of armchair detectives across the country.

Ms Walker did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday from The Independent.

One day before San Diego police met with Ms Norris, the department had released footage of the aspiring tattoo artist and her older boyfriend. Both were carrying backpacks when they entered a San Diego 7-Eleven on 4 November.

Ms Walker called police five days later. In the last conversation she’d had with her daughter, Ms Norris called from a stranger’s phone, said she’d had a fight with Mr Smith, told her mother she loved her and promised to call back.

The young woman, who’d previously rarely left Indiana, never made that call, Ms Walked told The Independent – something totally out of character that prompted concern.

In addition to contacting police, Ms Walker waged 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.

“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 last week she was 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.”

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