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‘You need to come home’: Teen still missing after suspected abductor is killed in shootout

Family members made a desperate plea to find a missing 15-year-old Bay Area girl whose suspected kidnapper was killed Thursday in a gun battle with authorities in Santa Barbara County before her whereabouts were known.

The FBI and Northern California law enforcement officials intensified their search Friday for Pearl Pinson, who was abducted two days ago in Vallejo while walking near her home to a school bus stop. Authorities think Pearl is injured, based on witness accounts and evidence found at the scene of her abduction.

“Pearl, you need to come home,” the teen’s sister, Rose Pinson, told reporters Thursday night. “If anything, you can find a way home. I know you can.”

Authorities said the kidnapping suspect, Fernando Castro, 19, was an acquaintance of Pearl’s. He often was seen roaming around her neighborhood, her sister said.

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Pearl’s disappearance triggered an Amber Alert on Thursday afternoon, alerting the public that Castro may be in a four-door sedan.

Hours after the alert, Castro was spotted at 3:10 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.

Aided by a helicopter, authorities followed Castro, who at one point drove the wrong way on the freeway. After exiting in Buellton, Castro drove through the city and then entered a neighborhood in Solvang, where he crashed into a barricade at a mobile home park.

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.

Castro shot at deputies as they closed in on him, and deputies fired back. He was pronounced dead at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds.

Santa Barbara County officials on Friday positively identified Castro as the gunman. Solano sheriff’s officials had identified Castro as the shooter on Thursday.

Pearl’s family is torn over Castro’s death because her whereabouts remain a mystery.

“It’s heartbreaking that he was killed because his little information could have helped us,” her sister said.

Pearl was last seen about 7 a.m. Wednesday on a Vallejo pedestrian bridge that crosses Interstate 780. A witness saw her being pulled by a man later identified as Castro, who was armed with a handgun, according to the Solano County Sheriff’s Office. She was bleeding and screaming for help as she was dragged away, said the witness, who ran to help and heard a gunshot.

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

The search for the missing Jesse Bethel High School student has widened to Marin County, where a camera on the San Rafael Bridge detected the license plate for Castro’s gold Saturn sedan about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Pearl was not seen in the car.

“We are trying to process as much of the evidence as we can with our main goal: to find Pearl; so that is our goal,” Solano County Sheriff Thomas Ferrara said. “It hasn’t changed.”

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

Detectives were reviewing tips and leads from citizens they received overnight, the Solano County Sheriff’s Office said Friday. The sheriff’s office also was developing a search plan.

“Our main focus continues to be finding Pearl and reuniting her with her family,” sheriff’s officials said.

Sheriff’s officials said there was no information to indicate Pearl is in Santa Barbara County.

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During their investigation, deputies searched Castro’s home and found several disturbing notes, prompting them to issue the Amber Alert, KOVR-TV reported.

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.

A dedicated tip line has been set up to help find Pearl: (707) 784-1963.

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UPDATES:

12:36 p.m.: This article was updated with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office confirming Fernando Castro was the gunman in Thursday’s shootout.

10:33 a.m.: This article was updated with new details from the Solano County Sheriff’s Office about the search for Pearl Pinson.

This article was originally posted at 7:19 a.m.


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