A teen who has been missing for nearly two years was found this week, all thanks to a broken taillight, AL.com reports.
The development marks a major turn in the case of Daphne Westbrook, who was reported missing in October 2019 from Chattanooga, Tennessee, after she didn’t return from a weekend visit with her father, John Westbrook.
Authorities are still searching for John Westbrook, who is believed to have kept his daughter involuntarily by intoxicating her with marijuana, mushrooms, LSD and alcohol, WKRN-TV reports.
Around 1:30 a.m. Friday, police made a seemingly routine traffic stop in Samson, Alabama, a small community near the state’s southern border with Florida. The vehicle had a broken taillight and its tags were expired.
Behind the wheel was Daphne Westbrook.
The officer ran Westbrook’s name through a law enforcement database and learned that she had been reported as missing in Tennessee.
Westbrook, now 18, told the officer that she was driving through Alabama en route to the beach with her dog.
The officer let her go, however, because she “was in no danger and stated that she needed no help in any way,” Samson Police Chief Jimmy Hill told AL.com.
“She seemed fine. She said she was going to the beach to enjoy herself,’’ Hill added, according to AL.com. “She said she had just turned 18 and was free.”
The report did not say where Westbrook had started her trip.
“We are thankful Daphne is safe and no longer being held by her father,” the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office said in a written statement, according to AL.com. “It is especially gratifying to be able to tell her mom that Daphne is free and no longer being hidden.”
Westbrook did not wish to speak with her mother, who has been estranged from her daughter since she dropped out of high school, according to the newspaper.
John Westbrook, an information technology expert, is believed to be a “Bitcoin millionaire” and has used Bitcoin and blockchain technology to help him disappear, Melydia Clewell, chief of staff for the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office, told AL.com.
Authorities are pursuing John Westbrook on charges of aggravated kidnapping and intend to charge anyone else who has helped him stay on the lam. Investigators believe that he may have been traveling with the teen around the country, including in Florida and New Mexico, according to WVLT-TV.
The district attorney’s office said in its written statement that its investigation remains ongoing and that it expects new developments “within the next couple of weeks,” AL.com reports. “This doesn’t change our goal to find and prosecute John Westbrook,” the office said, according to the newspaper.
To report information about the case or the location of John Westbrook, call 423-209-7415 or 1-800-TBI-FIND. Tips can also be emailed to TipsToTBI@tn.gov or FindingDaphne@hcdatn.org.