The mystery of Abigail Hernandez’s disappearance in Conway, N.H., nine months ago deepened Tuesday as authorities released pictures of clothes she was wearing when she unexpectedly reappeared Sunday and said they are reviewing surveillance video from around the family home to “gain answers to the many questions” in the case.
In a cryptic appeal for help from the public, investigators called for information from anyone who saw Hernandez between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Sunday wearing a colorful striped sweater and black leggings. They appear to be the same clothes Hernandez wore before she went missing in October, a few days before her 15th birthday, authorities said.
Jane E. Young, an associate attorney general in New Hampshire, said police are also looking for additional video of the Hernandez home and asked nearby residents who have video security systems to provide tapes to investigators.
“At the time of her disappearance, Abigail was 14 years old and had no known means to facilitate her disappearance or provide herself with shelter, meals, or other necessities over the ensuing nine months,” said a statement released by prosecutors, Conway police, and New Hampshire State Police. “Should the investigation reveal evidence that a person or persons were involved with Abigail’s disappearance and/or detainment or concealment, then the appropriate criminal charges will be brought.”
Apart from the mystery, Hernandez’s unexpected return has brought intense relief to a town that had been consumed with her disappearance. Massive searches were mounted, with hundreds of residents combing the area along with law enforcement, including the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team. Billboards went up on highways, and the case made national headlines. The local paper, the Conway Daily Sun, ran a count of the number of days Hernandez had been missing. Saturday’s total was 285.
“The community never gave up,” said Neal Moylan, principal at Kennett High School, where Hernandez was a freshman when she disappeared.
Still, many had given her up for dead, and the shock of her safe return has sparked questions. Now that “she’s safe and she’s home, the speculation will happen,” said Thomas Thorner, who runs the New Hampshire division of Sentry Protective Systems, an alarm company with a store near the Hernandez home. “I went out to breakfast this morning, and you can just hear people talking, ‘Well, where was she?’ ”
At Kennett High School, students expressed shocked relief that their classmate had returned, Moylan said.
“One day, we’re going through the ‘Where’s Abby?’ vigil. The next day, she’s with her mom,” he said. “They’re happy that there’s been a good ending to this.”
He said that the school community is eager for more information and that he had not spoken with Hernandez or her mother, Zenya Hernandez. Her mother worked occasionally at the school as a substitute nurse, he said.
Chrisann Acone Cardillo of Conway was among many who fanned out with fliers after Hernandez’s disappearance, in her case, posting them up and down the East Coast during a winter driving trip to Florida.
“Everyone I know is saying: Thank God she’s home,” she said. “We’re staying positive and hoping she’s OK and waiting to hear something.”
Hernandez was last seen Wednesday, Oct. 9, after leaving school. Police said she walked her normal route toward home and sent several texts to a friend between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Zenya Hernandez searched day after day for her daughter, offered a cash reward, and made several public pleas for her return, including a YouTube video.
Authorities say that on Nov. 6, Zenya Hernandez received a letter dated Oct. 22, purportedly from her daughter. Zenya Hernandez has made no public comment since her daughter’s reappearance and could not be reached Tuesday.
For residents, the fliers with her picture and the word “missing” that were posted everywhere meant that Hernandez was never far from their thoughts.
“She’s just constantly on your mind because it’s right here,” said Acone Cardillo, who moved to Conway 14 years ago from Winthrop. “I’m a biker and when I was out biking, I was constantly looking for her.”
Around town this week, the fliers were being taken down. That was a relief unto itself. “It’s nice not to see her face everywhere,” she said.