NATIONAL NEWS

Man questioned in Montana after Arizona woman reappears following four years missing

Jul 28, 2023, 3:21 AM | Updated: 7:24 pm

HAVRE, Mont. (AP) — A man was detained and questioned by police and his Montana apartment searched as authorities tried to piece together the mysterious disappearance and sudden reappearance this week of Alicia Navarro, who was 14 when she vanished from her Arizona home four years ago.

Police on Friday provided no details about Wednesday’s search or the identity of the man, who was released. But Garrett Smith, who lives in the apartment next to the one that was searched, said for at least a year Navarro lived there with the man who was questioned. He described them as quiet and said he hasn’t seen the man since the night police were there.

Navarro’s whereabouts were revealed Sunday when she showed up at the Havre police station and told officers she wanted her name removed from the missing persons list. Police in Glendale, Arizona, the community where she lived before disappearing, held a news conference Wednesday to announce that she’d been found.

Outside of a brief video appearance at the news conference, Navarro has said nothing publicly. On Friday, an Associated Press reporter knocked on the door of the apartment that was searched in Montana and the woman who opened it said she wanted to be left alone. The woman didn’t give her name but looked and sounded like Navarro.

Police had not made any arrests as of Friday night and questions remained about how she got there, who she has been with and what she has been doing since she ran away.

Authorities in both states aren’t saying much and neither is Alicia Navarro’s family or a private investigator they hired. Navarro has seen and spoken to her mother, Jessica Nuñez, remotely but they have not been reunited in person.

Glendale police spokesperson Gina Winn said that a person was temporarily detained for questioning Wednesday and released as Glendale detectives executed a search warrant in Havre.

“That was the purpose of the search warrant, to interview a person,” she said.

Three other people in Havre have been questioned, she said. She declined to name the people who were interviewed and would not specify whether detectives are still in the Montana town. Winn said authorities are working to determine what happened over the past four years and whether a crime occurred and someone could be held accountable.

Kidnapping is among the possible scenarios, Glendale police Lt. Scott Waite said earlier this week.

Asked why Nuñez hasn’t traveled to Montana to see her daughter, private investigator Trent Steele, who assisted Nuñez in the search for Navarro through the Miami-based nonprofit Anti-Predator Project, said Nuñez was attending to her other children at home in metropolitan Phoenix as the investigation unfolds in Montana. He also alluded to another dynamic.

“They need to keep Alicia close – the law enforcement officers who are currently working the investigation. And until they are done with what they need, they need to keep her close,” Steele said. “It has nothing to do with family dynamics.”

Police in Havre and Steele said when Navarro, 18, walked into the city’s police department, she also talked about wanting to move forward in life as an adult, including getting a driver’s license. She appeared to be fine and in good health, according to police.

One of the biggest questions remains: How did she end up nearly 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers) away from her childhood home in Glendale, Arizona, in far northern Montana?

Police have said Navarro told them she hadn’t been harmed, wasn’t being held, and could come and go as she pleased. She does not face any criminal charges, they added.

In Havre — a town of about 9,200 people surrounded by farmland — Navarro’s story had residents buzzing even though most had never seen or heard of her. It also piqued interest when a team of heavily armed law enforcement officers entered an apartment and took a man into custody just a few blocks from the Havre police station Wednesday night, witnesses told The Associated Press.

As many as 10 uniformed and undercover officers showed up around 8 p.m. and took him away in handcuffs. The man had been living in the apartment, said Rick Lieberg, who lives across the street.

A young woman, who resembled Navarro, later emerged from the apartment — one of six units in an aging building in a residential neighborhood — who Lieberg said he had not previously seen.

A person who works at the Dollar Tree in Havre, Jeff Hummert, said he saw a young woman resembling a photograph of Navarro last year in a city park just up the street from the apartment police searched Wednesday. She was walking alone and carrying a plastic Walmart bag, Hummert said.

Theories about how Navarro came to be in Montana topped the conversation Friday among the regulars at a coffee shop inside Gary & Leo’s IGA, a grocery store in downtown Havre. With scant details from authorities, most of the talk — about Navarro’s possible destination and whether she was being coerced — was conjecture, said former county Coroner Steve Sapp, who joined the discussion.

“When you’re in law enforcement, all these different stories about what happened make it hard to tell which story is really true,” Sapp said. “I would really like to know more.”

When Navarro disappeared in 2019, days shy of her 15th birthday, she left a note for her family promising she would return.

“I will be back, I swear,” the note read. “I’m sorry.”

The years Navarro has been gone have been agonizing for Nuñez, who never stopped searching for her daughter. She paid for a billboard ad in Mexico that featured a photo of her daughter for a year and bought 10 more ads in Las Vegas. She spoke at events and gave media interviews to raise awareness. She left flyers around Glendale — at salons, truck stops, parks.

Over the years, Nuñez had raised concerns that Navarro, who was diagnosed with autism, may have been lured away by someone she met online. Police have emphasized their efforts to afford privacy to Navarro even as investigations move forward.

“She is an adult, so it’s up to her whether or not she wants to go home,” Winn said.

In brief video clips that Glendale police released shortly after she arrived at the Havre police station, Navarro thanked authorities for offering to help her and said: “No one hurt me.”

Nunez declined an interview request. But for years, she had documented her efforts to find her daughter on a Facebook page titled “Finding Alicia” and an audio podcast. In an emotional video posted Wednesday, Nunez said “For everyone who has missing loved ones, I want you to use this case as an example. Miracles do exist. Never lose hope and always fight.”

Nunez had amassed a loyal following on social media throughout the years while sharing inspirational quotes, photos of Navarro as a young child and posts addressed directly to her daughter.

“Alicia I know you will fulfill what you promised,” Nunez wrote in one post. “You will be back.”

___

Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Associated Press reporter Rio Yamat in Las Vegas contributed to this story.

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