"Something's really wrong... I don't think she can call me," Sarah Merrill, the mother of Ella Jones, told local outlet KING 5
A 14-year-old girl from Mount Vernon, Washington, has been missing for 19 days. Her disappearance comes after she spent time talking to an older man on the internet, her mother said.
Ella Jones was reported missing on Jan. 6 by her mother Sarah Merrill, who told the Mount Vernon Police Department that she "voluntarily left the house sometime that morning or the previous evening," per a release shared on Facebook.
"Since she left home, Ella has not made contact with family members or friends," the police said. "Anytime a juvenile leaves home and ceases contact, it raises concern about their welfare."
Jones — who was last seen wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, multi-colored plaid pajama pants, and black Nike Air Forces, per police — was speaking with an older man via social media before her disappearance, her mother told NBC affiliate KING 5.
"A couple of kids did see her speaking to an adult male on a video on our computer," Merrill said, per the outlet, alleging that her daughter met a man on Omegle sometime before the randomized video chat site shut down in November 2023.
Merrill told Fox News that she had previously punished her daughter by temporarily taking her phone away after she spoke with a stranger. As she told the outlet, her daughter's friends informed her that she had been speaking with a man in his late 20s or early 30s on Discord. The stories from friends included differing details, the mother said.
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Lt. Dave Shackleton of the Mount Vernon Police Department confirmed to PEOPLE on Thursday morning that Jones "still hasn’t been located yet" and that her case was assigned to the department's criminal investigations division and a detective.
"We are receiving a number of tips and are evaluating each of them on their own merits," Shackleton shared. "Those that do have substantive information that we can follow up on, we are."
The department could not confirm to KING 5 whether it feels Jones was groomed by a man she met on the internet.
"I didn't fully realize the gravity of it," Merrill told the outlet. "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]."
"One friend had said that she really trusted him. And they're all pretty confident that's where they think she is," the mom continued. She added, "I don't have a lot of specifics or details right now. That's the only lead we have is that she was talking to a male online."
Merrill also told Fox News that authorities "have finally taken her electronics to do forensics" and that she herself did 10 hours of digging to get information on Jones' whereabouts.
Jones' father flew down from Alaska to help look for her as well, Merrill told KING 5, and Fox News reported that while there have been various sightings of her around Washington, none have been confirmed. Most sightings have been near Everett, Merrill added.
"Something's really wrong... I don't think she can call me," Merrill told KING5. "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 wrote a note saying she loved me and that she didn't want to hurt us anymore.”
The Mount Vernon Police Department has asked that anyone with information on Jones's whereabouts to call Skagit County Dispatch, and 911 if she is sighted.
"The internet’s great for a lot of things, but it can also be a dangerous place, especially for kids," Shackleton told KING 5, urging parents to look at their children's privacy settings. "If something feels wrong, it probably is. And if you get that feeling, make sure you tell your parents or another trusted adult what’s going on.”
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