A 14-year-old Washington state girl went missing three weeks ago after leaving a cryptic note for her mom — who had punished her for messaging an older man she had met online.
Sarah Merrill, of Mount Vernon, said she last saw her daughter, Ella Jones, in her room on the night of Jan. 5.
The next morning, she realized she was gone.
Ella’s friends have told her mom that she had been communicating with a man in his late 20s or early 30s on Discord, according to the outlet.
As punishment, Merrill took away her phone temporarily.
On the night of her disappearance, Ella left her mom a message that appeared to address the matter.
“She wrote a note saying she loved me and that she didn’t want to hurt us anymore,” Merrill Said.
The mom, who is seeking the public’s help in finding her daughter, described the events that preceded the disappearance.
“She was here at bedtime and we had a normal evening,” Merrill told the Fox News Digital. “She even laid with me right before I went to bed. I was tired because I had a long week at work. And she said, ‘I love you. Goodnight,’ and left the room.”
She said Ella appeared to know where she was going because she took some of her belongings.
“Clothes, her blow-dryer, my flat iron. … So I immediately went to her friend’s house and started asking questions,” Merrill told Fox News Digital.
“Something’s really wrong … I don’t think she can call me,” she told the outlet. “She has not ever run away. We are very close. There was also not like a fight, and, ‘I hate you mom, and I run away’ kind of a situation.”
She said she “didn’t fully realize the gravity” of her daughter’s interactions with the stranger.
“You always have something kind of going on with teenagers to some extent. But, I mean, she’s really sweet, good natured kid. So, the longer it went, the more the kids started opening up about [the online relationship],” Merrill told Fox News Digital.
“One friend had said that she really trusted him. And they’re all pretty confident that’s where they think she is,” she added.
Merrill said she doesn’t believe her daughter was in the midst of a mental health crisis, but that she had been groomed by the stranger, KING 5 reported.
Police were unable to confirm to the outlet whether they had corroborated the mom’s theory.
“As tips are coming in, we are evaluating each of those on their own merits,” police Lt. David Shackleton told KING 5. “The internet’s great for a lot of things, but it can also be a dangerous place, especially for kids.”
When she left, Ella is believed to have been wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, multicolored plaid pajama pants and black Nike Air Force shoes.
She is described as being 5 feet, 5 inches tall, with brown hair and weighing about 135 pounds.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children also is reaching out to the public for assistance in finding the teen.
Police are urging anyone with information to call the Skagit County Dispatch at 360-428-3211.