The New Hampshire teenager who vanished for nine months and reappeared Sunday faces medical issues and has lost a considerable amount of weight, the family of Abigail Hernandez said Friday night.
“The last few days have been extremely busy while law enforcement and medical concerns have had to be addressed,” Hernandez’s family said in a statement. “Right now, Abby is resting, extremely tired and in deteriorated health, and has lost a lot of weight. She is working to build her strength back and we hope soon she will be back on solid foods.”
Amanda Smith, a family friend, has spent time with Hernandez every day she came home.
“Abby is very thin and weak,” she said. “We continue to work towards getting her to eat.”
Hernandez, a Conway, N.H., teenager, has been working with authorities to help them understand how she disappeared and where she has been, but officials say that she is traumatized and they do not yet have the full story.
“Our biggest challenge is, we’re dealing with incomplete information,” said Kieran Ramsey, assistant special agent in charge of the of Boston Division of the FBI. “The victim in this case is a 15-year-old girl. It’s not as cut and dried as people think that somebody can exactly recount what happened, when, and where.”
Hernandez was 14 when she disappeared on the afternoon of Oct. 9. On Thursday, authorities released a sketch of a man in his mid-40s they say drove her away from North-South Road in Conway between 2:20 and 3 p.m., based on a description Hernandez provided. On Friday, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire attorney general’s office said they were following about 20 leads.
Hernandez described the man as slightly overweight and a little taller than 5 foot 4, with a large build, darkish skin, dark brown eyes, and black stubble on his face.
Authorities have stopped short of calling the man a suspect, though Ramsey said that investigators do have a “description of his involvement.” They are not releasing any more information about him, Ramsey said, until they locate and talk to him.
“Our biggest concern is, let’s find out who this is and make sure we get an interview with this person,” said Ramsey.
Investigators do not know if the man is from New Hampshire, said Ramsey, nor do they know if Hernandez remained in New Hampshire during her nine-month absence.
“That’s one of the disturbing factors of this,” he said. “This is a 15-year-old girl, 14 at the time, who literally just vanished for nine months. We need to account for that.”
Ramsey said the case has been unusual from the beginning.
“Early on, there were solid indications of an abduction,” he said. “A 14-year-old girl goes missing. Her social media and phone activity goes dark. No one sees or hears from her. Then, at some point, we get that letter to her mom. That’s very unusual. Then you fast-forward, and nine months later, she reappears.”
The letter, which arrived two months after Hernandez disappeared, was a critical lead, but authorities did not release its contents.
Ramsey said that was partly because they feared being flooded with false leads or people pretending to be Hernandez.
Since Hernandez’s return, authorities have advised the public to “remain vigilant,” but have not said that there is any threat to public safety.
“If she was taken against her will or enticed away, we have the potential that somebody could do it again,” said Ramsey. “We haven’t substantiated that yet. That’s why we haven’t raised the alarm.”
Earlier this week, authorities released pictures of clothing the teenager was wearing when she reappeared Sunday and asked for information from anyone who saw her between 10 and 10:30 p.m. They are reviewing surveillance video from around the family home.
For the people who love Hernandez, the questions about where she was are secondary to their joy at having her back.
“Happiest thing ever, to see her with her mom,” said Paul Kirsch, 48, of Madison, who helps run the website www.bringabbyhome.com, which has been endorsed by Hernandez’s mother, Zenya, and father, Ruben.
When Kirsch first saw her after her return, he said, he was filled with “relief, total sadness, and total happiness.”
Kirsch, who has known Zenya Hernandez for years, said her daughter will need to take some time to recover from “some health issues.”
“She was pretty tired; her mom was pretty tired,” he said. “I think, more than anything, they were so ecstatic to see each other, but you could definitely tell she had been through some stuff.”
Kirsch declined to discuss what Hernandez has said about her disappearance or her return.
In the few conversations he has had with Hernandez, Kirsch said, he has avoided the topic. Hernandez, he said, is overwhelmed by the love and support from the community during the nine months she was gone.
In the statement Friday night, the Hernandez family offered thanks to those who supported them during Abigail’s disappearance.
“The extent of our gratitude can hardly be expressed in words, and we are beyond overjoyed about Abby’s return,” the family said.
Kirsch said he never doubted that Hernandez would come home.
“You don’t think about any other options, other than she’s going to come back,” he said. “You don’t know if it’s going to be a month or going to be years, but you never stop believing.”