Candlelight vigil turns into homecoming party for Perry Hall girl missing for days

The Baltimore Sun
Girl missing since Tuesday from Baltimore County returns home.

Family and friends of Jasmine Leighlin Baker had planned a vigil Saturday evening for the 12-year-old Perry Hall girl who had been missing since Tuesday.

But after the FBI found her unharmed Friday night in North Carolina, there she was the next day, smiling with friends and holding a candle of her own on her front lawn.

The vigil turned into a homecoming for Jasmine, who was interviewed by authorities Saturday, then returned to her family. No information was released on the North Carolina man, believed to be in his 30s, with whom she was found.

Baker's family said while they, too, awaited answers, they were just pleased to have her home.

"The only thing that matters at this point is she does look and appear to be OK," said her grandfather, Merrill Bittner. "We've seen her smile."

FBI agents found Jasmine unharmed at about 10:30 p.m. Friday in a residence in the Raleigh area, officials said. An FBI spokeswoman provided no details Saturday about how the girl wound up in North Carolina or whether any arrests had been made in the case. Police said the suspect, whose identity has not been released, has been questioned and remains in custody of federal officers.

Tina Baker, the girl's mother, thanked the community for helping in the search.

"One tip is why Jasmine is here," she said, though she declined to elaborate. "Somebody saw something that wasn't supposed to be."

Baltimore County police spokesman Cpl. John Wachter said that overall, more than 100 tips had been received in the case. He did not have information on which one led authorities to the North Carolina man.

Officials had said earlier in the week that they were studying the teen's social media activities, and the department said in a news release that digital forensics — specifically clues provided by her activity on her iPod and Xbox — played "a crucial role in detectives' ability to find her."

The sixth-grade girl had last been seen Tuesday morning when she left her home in the 4200 block of Soth Avenue for her usual walk to Perry Hall Middle School. She did not make it to class, and her family notified police.

Federal investigators joined state and Baltimore County law enforcement agencies in the search Wednesday, and law enforcement agencies initially appeared to focus efforts locally. The FBI said that it was working to put up billboards advertising Jasmine's disappearance in the area, and bloodhounds searched the neighborhood and locations mentioned by tipsters.

Investigators also checked hotels in the area and reviewed surveillance footage from businesses, and neighbors helped post "missing" fliers on signs and telephone poles.

Marcus Dent, commander of the Baltimore chapter of Guardian Angels, a group that offers support in missing persons cases, said members had been planning a 6:30 a.m. search Saturday. But once word came Friday night that Jasmine had been found, it was canceled.

Instead, members of the chapter were among dozens of friends, family and neighbors who gathered on Baker's front lawn Saturday evening.

sdance@baltsun.com

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