Police have found a missing 13-year-old girl from Hesperia, California and say that while her parents led them to believe she had been kidnapped, evidence suggests she actually ran away to escape an arranged marriage.
Initially, Jessie Marie Bender's family told detectives that she didn't want to go on a family trip to Pakistan, her step-father's homeland, so she ran away on February 22. The Los Angeles Times reports that they later changed their story, saying she could have been abducted by someone she met on Facebook.
The suggestion that Bender was the victim of a online predator, not just another runaway, prompted authorities to call in the FBI, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, and members of the LAPD and Chicago Police Department. The massive search produced no evidence that she'd been kidnapped, but according to a spokeswoman, "It was revealed that a member of the Bender family concealed Jess in the town of Apple Valley out of fear that she would be taken to Pakistan for an arranged marriage."
The relative had been hiding Bender in a motel the entire time. She and her three siblings have been put in protective custody and her parents are under investigation. According to a report from NBC LA, Bender's mother said the arranged marriage allegation is "crap," and complained that police questioned her and her husband for more than 30 hours.
Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Reported Missing Fled Arranged Marriage [LAT]
Hesperia Teen May Have Run Away to Avoid Arranged Marriage In Pakistan [NBC LA]