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Brooklyn Gittins found unhurt but questions remain

Published January 11, 2013 11:54 pm

Investigation • Brooklyn Gittins, 13, is found unhurt; police are searching for possible abductor.
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A 13-year-old girl whose disappearance sparked massive searches of the freezing, snowy tracts of her Herriman neighborhood has been found alive and well. Now, the search for her possible abductor is under way.

Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said Friday that Brooklyn Gittins telephoned her grandmother about 11:30 p.m. Thursday from a Walmart store in neighboring South Jordan. The grandmother called UPD, which dispatched officers to the store and found the girl.

"Brooklyn was not injured and is fine," Hoyal said, noting she was being questioned about her whereabouts over the past several days. "For right now, we're just very relieved that she is now home and safe with her family."

Gittins was wearing the same clothes she was when she was last seen Tuesday night: black pajama pants, a gray T-shirt, and no shoes, coat or her glasses.

Investigators were trying to locate the person with whom Gittins had been since Tuesday. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, at an early Friday morning news conference, said the incident could be considered an abduction given that Gittins is a minor.

"We believe [the suspect] may face charges as it relates to this incident. So this case, from my standpoint, is not a simple runaway," Winder said, adding in a direct statement to the suspect: "We're going to find you."

Hoyal indicated that the girl — who had briefly run away from home this past summer — may have left her home voluntarily Tuesday night.

"Brooklyn did leave her home on the night of Jan. 8, 2013, [and] we believe she was picked up and harbored by [the suspect]," Hoyal said. "The disappearance is suspicious, and we are still investigating where she went and who she was with.

"If a 13-year-old girl takes off and leaves, that's one thing. But if someone takes her and harbors her for two and a half days without her parents' permission, that's a problem," he added.

Hoyal said detectives were exhausted after following the case "24-seven" for the past days but planned to resume the investigation Friday afternoon — including renewed questioning of Gittins. Hoyal said it could be early next week before investigators have a clearer idea of exactly what transpired, and no more information would be released until Monday at the earliest.

Efforts to reach a Gittins family spokesman Friday were not successful. Several messages left with various relatives were not returned.

Gittins' disappearance prompted two days of search efforts from the ground and the air. On Thursday, with a major snowstorm approaching and with concerns about subfreezing temperatures at night, the search was called off. More than 1,000 volunteers aided police in a 17-square-mile grid search of Herriman, a suburban community about 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

remims@sltrib.com