Missing Randallstown teacher Gwendolyn Marie Whiten was found safe but confused in Boston yesterday, and the nearly weeklong mystery of her whereabouts was replaced by another -- how she ended up there.
Her family was preparing for a noon news conference to announce a reward when Mrs. Whiten, 57, made a collect telephone call to her son from a Gulf service station on the outskirts of Boston at 11:15 a.m.
"She wasn't coherent," said her son Bennie Whiten III. "She was crying and she was scared."
Mrs. Whiten had vanished last Tuesday after withdrawing money from her bank accounts shortly before sunrise.
She was reported missing when, without notice, she failed to show up for work at Randallstown High School.
Her son said Mrs. Whiten was unable to say how she ended up at the Gulf station in Boston's Dorchester section. He instructed his mother to wait there while he phoned Baltimore County police, and they in turn contacted authorities in Boston.
Officer John McNulty, spokesman for Boston police, said Mrs. Whiten was found at the gas station and taken by ambulance to Boston City Hospital. Police towed her car and stored it, he said.
John Rochalski, an employee at the gas station, said Mrs. Whiten appeared to be alone. She did not go inside the station, he said, and his first indication that anything was wrong came when police arrived.
"I believe she was sleeping or something because the officer was banging on the glass [of the car] to get her attention," Mr. Rochalski said. "She seemed to be out of it."
Officials at the hospital said Mrs. Whiten was undergoing tests in the emergency room yesterday evening and was in good condition.
The phone call home came as Mr. Whiten was about to announce a $5,000 reward for information leading to her return. XTC Instead, he had good news to deliver.
"She's alive, she's alive," Mr. Whiten kept repeating to himself, laughing with relief. "Thank you God, thank you God."
Mr. Whiten also thanked police for their efforts in locating his mother. Cpl. Kevin Novak, spokesman for Baltimore County police, said the investigation would be concluded because Mrs. Whiten had been found.
"Our involvement has ended because she is an adult and can travel at will," Corporal Novak said. "As long as there is no foul play involved, it essentially becomes none of our business."
Neither Mr. Whiten nor his sister Leslie Whiten had a reason to offer for why their mother might have disappeared without notifying anyone. Mrs. Whiten's ex-husband, the Rev. Bennie Whiten Jr., lives in Framingham, Mass., a Boston suburb.
Barry Williams, principal of Randallstown High, announced to students and faculty that Mrs. Whiten had been found alive.
"A few of the staff members had tears of joy in their eyes," Mr. Williams said. "Some of the students who had her were ecstatic."
Mr. Williams said there was no indication at school why the invariably prompt teacher did not show up at school a week ago.
"She has always been very reliable," said Mr. Williams, who called Leslie Whiten last Tuesday afternoon to check on her mother's unexplained absence.
"That's why it was such a shock."
Mr. Whiten and his sister flew to Boston about 1 p.m. yesterday to be reunited with their mother.
"We just want to thank everyone for their support and their prayers," Leslie Whiten said. "I wouldn't want to see anyone go through this."