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Search for kidnapped Northern California teen widens after suspect killed in police shootout

The man wanted on suspicion of kidnapping a 15-year-old Bay Area girl was killed Thursday after a high-speed chase in Santa Barbara County ended in a shootout, authorities said.

But the search has intensified for Pearl Pinson, who was abducted early Wednesday morning in Vallejo while walking to a school bus and has not been seen or heard from since. The FBI has joined the search effort, officials said late Thursday.

The kidnapping suspect, Fernando Castro, 19, was spotted about 3 p.m. near Los Alamos heading south on the 101 Freeway in a gold Saturn, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover. Authorities issued an Amber Alert earlier in the day notifying the public that Castro may be in the four-door sedan.

UPDATE: Family members make a desperate plea >>

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During the high-speed chase through Santa Barbara County, Castro at one point drove the wrong way on the freeway and later led authorities off the freeway to a quiet mobile home park in Solvang, about 30 miles northwest of Santa Barbara.

Authorities pursue the 1997 gold Saturn sedan driven by Fernando Castro, who later died in a shootout with police.
Authorities pursue the 1997 gold Saturn sedan driven by Fernando Castro, who later died in a shootout with police.
(Courtesy of Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara County Fire Department)

Castro crashed his sedan and shot at deputies after he hopped out of his car, Hoover said. One of the deputies returned fire.

He then broke into a mobile home and holed up inside. A woman who lived at the home managed to escape without any injuries. Castro then stole a Toyota Tundra truck from the home and tried to flee.

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Castro shot at deputies as they closed in on him, and deputies fired back in a shootout that punctured the usual calm of the Central Coast community. He was seen slumped over and not moving in the driver’s seat, local media reported, and he was pronounced dead at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds.

Santa Barbara County officials did not officially identify the gunman as Castro. Solano County Sheriff Thomas Ferrara identified Castro as the shooter involved in the pursuit near Solvang.

Investigators review scene in Solvang where law enforcement were in a shootout with 19-year-old Fernando Castro.
Investigators review scene in Solvang where law enforcement were in a shootout with 19-year-old Fernando Castro.
(Kenneth Song / Santa Barbara News-Press via Associated Press )

The search for the missing 15-year-old initially focused on the Vallejo area, but it has since widened.

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Solano County sheriff’s deputies were working with law enforcement in Santa Barbara and Marin counties to try to locate Pearl and retrace Castro’s movements in the last two days.

Authorities announced late Thursday that about 9:30 a.m., a camera on the San Rafael Bridge had detected the license plate for Castro’s gold Saturn sedan. At that time, Pearl was not seen in the car.

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Ferrara, the sheriff of Solano County, called on the public to alert authorities if they see Pearl or know of her whereabouts. A dedicated tip line has been set up to help track down the teenager: (707) 784-1963.

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“We continue to look for her and we are very worried for her safety,” Ferrara said. “We are going to continue searching.”

Authorities say Castro snatched Pearl on Wednesday morning near a Vallejo pedestrian bridge that crosses Interstate 780.

Fernando Castro is suspected of kidnapping 15-year-old Pearl Pinson, officials said.
Fernando Castro is suspected of kidnapping 15-year-old Pearl Pinson, officials said.
(Solano County Sheriff’s Department )

A witness saw her being pulled by a male teen armed with a handgun, according to the Solano County Sheriff’s Office. She was reportedly bleeding and screaming for help as she was dragged away. The witness ran to help and heard a gunshot.

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At the pedestrian bridge, deputies found blood on the ground. KTXL-TV reported a cellphone also was found.

Authorities worked through the night to find Pearl, who was believed to be injured during her abduction. The CHP issued an Amber Alert on Thursday, stating that the girl may be in the 1997 four-door Saturn driven by Castro.

Officials described Castro as an acquaintance of Pearl, but further details were not released.

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Pearl was last seen wearing a gray sweater, black leggings and a black-and-turquoise backpack. She has green hair and green eyes, and officials said she has a metallic piercing below her lower lip on the left side.

Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.

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Follow @MattHjourno and @VeronicaRochaLA for more news in California.


UPDATES:

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10:28 p.m.: This story was updated with additional details, including the sighting of Fernando Castro’s car in Marin County.

7:24 p.m.: This story was updated throughout with additional details.

4:54 p.m.: This post was updated with reports that the suspect was found and killed.

This post was originally published at 10:19 a.m.

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