Pearl Pinson woke up late on the morning of May 25, 2016. As a result, the 15-year-old had to rush to get ready for school. She yelled out a quick goodbye to her parents as she hurried out the door of her Vallejo, California home, but took the time to stop in the front yard and take a quick selfie with her phone. She had added green streaks to her hair, and she wanted to make sure it looked okay. Pleased with the results, she continued on her way to the bus stop.
As she did every school day, Pearl headed towards the pedestrian overpass where she would cross over Interstate 780 near Taylor Avenue. Her bus stop was on the other side, and from there it was just a short ride to Jesse Bethel High School, where she was a freshman. The walk usually passed without incident, but on this morning, something went very wrong.
Shortly before 7:00 am, several witnesses heard a scream coming from the pedestrian overpass. They looked up to see Pearl being dragged across the walkway by a Hispanic man who was pointing a gun at her. She was screaming for someone to help her, and her face was covered in blood. One woman took off running so she could summon help, and as she turned away she heard a single gunshot. Another witness would later tell police she had watched in horror as the man threw Pearl into the trunk of his car and drove off.
Police responded immediately, and it was clear something violent had just taken place. On the overpass, they found Pearl’s cellphone and several pools of blood.
Police would later identify the man who had abducted Pearl as 19-year-old Fernando Castro, a local man with a minor criminal record but no history of violence against women. Although initial news reports suggested that Pearl and Fernando knew each other, investigators later determined that this was not the case. As far as they could tell, the two had never met in person nor interacted on social media. Detectives were unsure why he decided to target Pearl, but thought it might have been simply a crime of opportunity. Although some suggested he may have seen Pearl around the neighborhood and had been following her, Pearl never told anyone that she felt like she was being followed or had a potential stalker.
Detectives went to talk to Fernando’s family, but none of them knew where he could have gone. They were all shocked by what they were told he was accused of. He hadn’t always been a good teen, but he had never been in this much trouble before.
It took more than 30 hours after Pearl was taken that an AMBER Alert was finally sent out. It’s not clear why there was such a long wait, but it looks like there was some confusion about the car her kidnapper was driving. Investigators finally found the suspect in a gold and tan 1997 Saturn four-door. His number plate number was put on an AMBER Alert, and people were told to call the police if they saw him or his car.
Around 3:00 p.m. the next day, a California Highway Patrol officer saw Fernando driving on Highway 101 near Los Alamos and tried to pull him over. At that moment, Fernando looked like he was driving alone in his car, but it was clear he wasn’t going to stop for the police officer. This led to a high-speed chase. Fernando did everything he could to get away from the police. At one point, he even drove down the highway the wrong way.
As the California Highway Patrol and deputies from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office kept chasing Fernando, he chose to get off the highway in Buellton, California. A few miles away from Buellton, in the town of Solvang, Fernando was going. The police were able to radio ahead and have a barricade put up in the road to stop him. He did not stop, but instead crashed into it, damaging his Saturn and making it useless. Instead of giving up, he ran away, and there was a short foot chase. Fernando shot at the police officers who were after him a few times to get them to back off. He then ran into a Solvang mobile home park to find a place to hide.
It looks like Fernando broke into one of the mobile homes to try to hold someone hostage to use against the police. The scared woman inside was able to get out quickly, though, and Fernando needed some time to calm down. People in the area were told to stay inside their homes until further notice because police thought Fernando might shoot someone at any time.
It was quiet for a while, and police tried to talk to Fernando to get him to come outside and give up peacefully. As an alternative, Fernando chose to try to escape the police again. When he saw that the homeowner had left the keys to their Toyota Tundra, he decided to steal it. He jumped out of the trailer and ran to the truck, shooting a few times as he went.
Diego was able to get into the truck, but the police would not let him get away again. As he got in his car to leave, he kept shooting at police, and this time they shot back. Fernando was found dead at the scene of the crime after being shot several times. Pearl was not to be found.
Investigators looked through Fernando’s Saturn for clues, but they couldn’t find anything that would lead them to believe Pearl was somewhere else. There was some of her blood in the trunk, but it was very little. This made the police think that she might still be alive somewhere. Still, Fernando was killed more than 300 miles from where he took Pearl, so she could be anywhere in that time frame. It was a huge area to look through.
When police learned that Fernando’s car had been seen on surveillance cameras driving near San Francisco Bay a few hours after Pearl had been taken, they sent search teams to look all over the area, especially near the water. They couldn’t find any proof that Pearl had ever been there.
In the end, the search would move to Sonoma Coast State Park’s Willow Creek area. Detectives said they had new information that made them think Pearl might be there, but they didn’t say where the information came from. People from several law enforcement agencies searched the park, but they didn’t find anything interesting.
Divers, police dogs, volunteers, and people on foot searched an area of land in Sonoma County near the Russian River, but they found nothing. A lot of other places along the coast were also looked for, but nothing that could help investigators figure out where Pearl was was found.
Detectives asked all the businesses in the area to look at their outside surveillance footage from the day Pearl was taken to see if they had any pictures of Fernando or his car. No one came forward to say they had found anything.
After the first few days of the investigation, the police kept getting tips about possible places Pearl could be. Police were told by several people who called that they thought they had seen Pearl, but none of these sightings could be confirmed. Police stopped looking for Pearl after a week of trying to find the missing girl but not being able to.
The investigation was complicated by the fact that the one person who knew for certain what had happened to Pearl was no longer alive. Pearl’s family was extremely displeased with the fact that police had killed Fernando, alleging that if the officers had been less trigger happy, they might have been reunited with the missing girl. They also felt that police had stopped the search for Pearl too soon, and feared they might never know what had happened to her.
In an effort to keep the case in the public eye, the family held several public prayer vigils on the overpass where Pearl was abducted, and they raised money to offer a reward for information leading to her recovery. They created flyers and posters and distributed them throughout the state, hoping that someone might have seen something that would lead them to Pearl.
Detectives continued to investigate the case but very little progress was made. In 2018, they announced that information had recently come to light that placed Fernando in the Bodega Bay area shortly after Pearl was abducted. They conducted a physical search of the area, including a pond, but were unable to find anything related to the case. They appealed to the public for help, asking for anyone who might have seen something to come forward, even if they didn’t think their information was important at the time.
Pearl’s family has been devastated by her abduction, and continue to distribute flyers and hold vigils to remind the public that she is still missing. They are holding out hope that she is still alive and just want to bring her home.
Police have said that they have no evidence suggesting Pearl is dead, but they still do not have a full timeline for where Fernando was in the hours between Pearl’s abduction and the time he was killed the following afternoon. They are interested in hearing from anyone who might have seen anything unusual that day.
Pearl Pinson was 15 years old when she went missing in 2016. She has blue/green eyes and light brown hair that was dyed green when she went missing. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. She was last seen wearing a gray sweater, black leggings, a black and white jacket, and pink, white & black Nike Turf shoes. She was also wearing a black Raiders beanie hat and carrying a black and green Joker backpack. She has a piercing on the left lower side of her lip. If you have any information about Pearl, please call the Solano County Sheriff’s Office at 707–421–7090.