An Ohio teen who was the centerpiece of a frantic search earlier this month has been found safe, but questions remain after her mysterious disappearance.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, 18-year-old Madison Bell vanished May 17 after she told her mother she was going to a tanning salon. Bell’s vehicle was subsequently found the same day, at the Good Shepherd Church parking lot located near the salon, in Greenfield. The keys were still in the ignition and her wallet and cellphone also inside.
Highland County and Ross County police and the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force later released surveillance stills of an unidentified man and a white sedan related to Bell’s disappearance.
On May 21, Highland County Sheriff Donald Barerra said law enforcement had located Bell unharmed. The sheriff said that Maddie confirmed that she was with the man spotted on security footage and that she met him online, according to FOX 19.
CrimeOnline spoke with victims advocate and investigative reporter, Emily Nestor, who was the liaison for the family while Maddie was missing. According to Nestor, Bell had been talking to the man through a game app for around three years before she left with him
Nestor added that Bell’s high school best friend said Bell did not want to be in a relationship with her boyfriend, Cody Mann, who lived with her in mother Melissa Bell’s home. Nestor said she saw a text message exchange between Bell and her friend that indicated Bell’s mother reportedly forced her to stay together with Mann.
“[The] mom was forcing her to be with Cody, said ‘you’re dating him, you don’t have a choice,'” Nestor told CrimeOnline, referring to the text messages. “She tried to talk to her mother, but she [Melissa Bell] yelled at her.”
Nestor added that Bell made it clear to her mother than when she turned 18, she planned to break up with Mann; Bell reportedly referred to the man as “mean behind closed doors.”
Mann appeared on “Crime Stories with Nancy Grace” earlier this month and said there was no trouble in their relationship, and he had no idea why Bell would run away.
After law enforcement located Bell, she reportedly said she did not want to go home and planned to start a new life. Nestor said Bell took a photo of herself to give to her mother.
Afterward, Nestor asked Melissa Bell if her daughter left a note behind. Nestor said Melissa Bell claimed she had “no idea” about a note. Police indicated that they have no confirmation regarding a note.
Nestor, however, is skeptical. She explained that Melissa Bell reported her daughter missing on social media within 15 minutes from the time Bell left her home, according to a timestamp on a Facebook post. Nestor said the post indicated that Melissa Bell possibly posted on social media right after reading a note.
CrimeOnline reached out to Melissa Bell for comment but she was not immediately available.
Since Bell is 18, she didn’t commit a crime by leaving home and no charges have been filed. Nestor, however, said she’s concerned for the teen’s safety due to struggles that Bell faces.
“I’m seriously concerned about Maddie’s safety. She has struggles and my concern is she ran away out of desperation, with no glasses, contacts, or identification. There are people in the community are offering her a home and resources if she is not safe.”
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Here is a previous episode on the case.
[Feature Photo: Madison Bell/Handout]