Parental Child Abduction: For Some Families, Reunions With Missing Children Present New Challenges

February 19, 2016

Source: Newsweek

On February 12, hours after Newsweek published an article about the search for Sage and Isaac Cook, missing brothers from Washington state, the FBI announced it had recovered the boys in Mexico and reunited them with their father, David Cook.

Sage and Isaac Cook

The recovery ended a five-and-a-half-month search for the boys, who law enforcement believes were abducted by their mother, Faye Ku. Cook first reported them missing in August 2015, after they didn’t return home to Seattle following a visit to see Ku in Los Angeles. “Sage and Isaac both appeared to be in stable health, but that’s just our impression from the short encounter,” Ayn Dietrich, a spokeswoman for Seattle’s FBI division, which oversaw the case, says by email. Law enforcement also recovered Ku’s toddler son, Zephyr, who has a different father.

Months ago, when police searched Ku’s home, they found the boys’ electronic devices. They also recovered typed letters signed by Ku that instructed a friend to get rid of Ku’s belongings and told Cook, her ex-husband, “The children and I are safe among friends. Please do not send strangers who can only make life more dangerous for us.”

The FBI focused its search on areas of the country where it believed Ku had contacts, as well as in Taiwan, where Ku was born, and in Canada and Mexico. The latter turned out to be correct. The FBI learned Ku had illegally crossed the border with the children into Tijuana on August 29. The authorities then pursued leads, which led to pinpointing their location.

Law enforcement first learned that Ku and the boys were likely living in Mazatlán, Mexico, on February 7, and the next day Mexican authorities first spotted them. The FBI spokeswoman declined to offer more details about how the bureau developed its leads, citing the ongoing investigation and the fact that the FBI may use similar investigative techniques for future cases.

Mazatlán, in the state of Sinaloa, is a resort city of nearly 400,000 residents along the Pacific Ocean. It is a 20-hour drive south of Tijuana or two and a half hours by plane. Cook and his wife, Helen, believe Ku rented a house for her and the boys. The owner may have lived in the house or in an adjoining one. The boys shared a room, and the house may not have had hot running hot water or some basic appliances. The boys spent their time cooking, which they had previously liked to do, watching movies and learning to speak Chinese and Spanish, the Cooks say. “They didn’t mention having much interaction with other kids their age,” Cook says, “so we think they kind of stuck to each other, Faye and the kids.”

The Cooks say they flew to Mexico on February 11, just before the authorities expected to recover the boys and intercept Ku. Everything went as the authorities had planned, and the Cooks reunited with Sage and Isaac on Friday, February 12. They flew back to Seattle that day, connecting through Phoenix. “It was very emotional,” Cook says. The authorities minimized the time the boys spent without either parent, he adds, “but it was still a difficult transition for them.”

An FBI victim specialist accompanied the family on their trip home. “I think on the first flight it was pretty obvious to the people around us that something was going on,” Cook says. “There were teary reunions, and we were talking to the boys and trying to reassure them that everything was going to be all right.”

Cook and his wife brought Isaac, 9, a teddy bear and a book, Rick Riordan’s The Sword of Summer, which he read on the plane. For Sage, 15, they brought origami paper, which he crafted into a geometric structure.

If Ku gave the boys an explanation for why she took them to Mexico and why they could not see their father, Cook would not say. He did, however, explain that the reunion was not easy, especially for Isaac, who he says appeared upset on the first flight home. “We’re happy,” Cook says, “but we’re sensitive that the boys are conflicted, and we’re worried about them.”

Such behavior is common following family abductions, says Marsha Gilmer-Tullis, executive director of the Family Advocacy Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She says that upon recovery, children are often concerned about what will happen to their abductor. “It’s very, very common that when children are recovered from a family abduction situation that they do not want to return,” she says, speaking generally and not about the Cook case. “It’s very, very common to see acting out.”

That was the case for Sam Fastow, who now does public speaking and whose noncustodial father abducted him in 1997 when he was 10. Authorities recovered Fastow more than eight months later. “I saw my dad arrested right in front of me,” he says. “When I came home, I turned my frown kind of into a smile because that’s what I thought other people wanted…. But for me, an abductor didn’t go to jail. My dad went to jail. And even though he did something that was awful and not in my best interest, he’s still my dad.”

Fastow says his advice for the Cooks is to give one another time to heal. He initially took his anger out on his mother, but he later found closure by reconnecting with his father after the man had served time in prison. Fastow’s mother, Abby Potash, now runs Team Hope, a peer support network for family members of missing children, operated through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Gilmer-Tullis adds that recovered children may initially not trust the custodial parents, having heard stories from the abducting parents about why they needed to go into hiding. “The child may be frightened of them. There may be things that the child may say that will be harmful and hurtful to that parent,” Gilmer-Tullis says. “So we really try to prepare the parent to understand that and to be aware of the fact that this is what the child has been led to believe.”

That may lead to “divided loyalties” upon recovery, Gilmer-Tullis says. “You may see a lot of negative behavior…talking back, making threats of running away. The relationship can be very, very tenuous and can be very painful for the custodial parent. There can be times when things are very, very peaceful, and it appears that things are going really well, and then suddenly there can be something that just sets it off again.”


Cook seems to be anticipating those triggers. “There are days or parts of days where everybody’s happy and everything’s just normal, and we don’t want to be lulled into a false sense of security because of that,” he says. “We know that the boys are still hurting inside.”

Days after the reunification, Sage and Isaac appear smiling in photos with their father at home. Cook says the boys will likely attend therapy and will hopefully soon return to school. The boys shared a bed for at least their first few nights back, Cook says, and he slept in a sleeping bag on their bedroom floor. “I get nervous if I can’t see them or hear them,” he says.

Mexican authorities deported Ku and officers brought her to Los Angeles International Airport, where the FBI took her into custody. The FBI said Ku appeared in court on February 16 and will likely face charges related to international kidnapping. (The record of the hearing is not yet public.) The Cooks say they believe the FBI gave Ku the opportunity to assign a relative to care for her toddler son.

Today, Ku has support from people who feel that the family court system is discriminatory toward women. Her friends wrote on Facebook that she needs their support now more than ever. “I understand that she committed a crime and she is ultimately responsible for the choices she made,” one wrote, “but they were made out of love, not malice, and it seems like everyone could be a bit more compassionate of things.”

“I am very sorry Faye was caught and is facing life in prison for just trying to keep custody of her boys,” Cindy Dumas, executive director of Safe Kids International and the Women’s Coalition, says by email. “It’s so sad.”

Even Cook is unsure of what he wants to happen to his ex-wife. “I was married to the woman, and I don’t wish anything bad to her,” he says. “On the other hand, I think that she’s a danger to the boys, and we don’t really know how to protect them.”

“I’d be conflicted,” he adds, “with any outcome.”

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Inside the Movement to Keep Missing Kids Missing

February 13, 2016


Several hours after Newsweek published this article, the FBI announced that authorities had located Sage and Isaac Cook in the state of Sinaola, Mexico and that they had reunited with their father and returned to Washington state. Faye Ku has been deported to the United States and is scheduled to appear in court on February 16 on charges of international parental kidnapping, the FBI said.


Sage, left, and Isaac Cook, right, were missing from August 2015 to February 2016. Law enforcement and the boys’ father said it was possible their mother, Faye Ku, got help in abducting them.

After her sons didn’t return to their father after a visit with their mother last August, police discovered several typed letters while searching Faye Ku’s home. One, addressed to a friend and signed by Ku, said to cancel her phone plans and sell or get rid of her belongings, even the jewelry and cash. Another letter was addressed to her ex-husband, David Cook, the father of their boys, Sage and Isaac: “The children and I are safe among friends. Please do not send strangers who can only make life more dangerous for us.”

The FBI believes that Ku abducted the two boys when they visited her in Los Angeles. Their father, who lives near Seattle, had custody. With few traces to follow—Ku left behind her credit cards and driver’s license and her and the boys’ electronic devices—the FBI is picking apart her letters. Indicating the three of them are “among friends” suggests that Ku has help keeping herself and the boys underground, and law enforcement is focusing efforts on parts of the U.S. and abroad where she is believed to have connections.

The boys’ father says he thinks “some organization is helping her or just some individuals are helping her.”

“God only knows who she’s associating with,” says Helen Cook, the boys’ stepmother.

According to the United States Department of Justice, an estimated 203,900 children were abducted by family members in 1999, the most recent year for which estimates exist. That figure is three and a half times the amount of stranger abductions. In 21 percent of those family abduction cases, the child was gone for a month or longer. Only 28 percent of children were reported to law enforcement as missing.

“Oftentimes, I think people dismiss that as not a serious matter because children are with somebody who ostensibly loves them and cares about them,” Ayn Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Seattle division, which is overseeing the Cook case, says about family abductions.

The number of family abductions in which an abductor has assistance is elusive, but if Ku does have help, it would place her within an underground movement that for decades has worked to keep missing kids missing.


The FBI believes that Faye Ku, left, abducted her sons Isaac, center, and Sage, right. Ku’s son Zephyr, by a different father, is also considered missing.

“Don’t look anything like yourself. We’ll meet you at the station. Leave everything behind that might remind you of your past life, including pictures and credit cards and your driver’s license. Forget who you are.”

The network that became known as Children of the Underground once gave these instructions to a runaway mother, People reported in 1989. Family abduction experts widely consider that group and its leader, Faye Yager, as the face of a movement that once helped men and women take their kids into hiding in order to escape partners they alleged were abusive, and whom the courts had granted custody.

Yager formally started helping parents in 1987; in 1992, she told The New York Times that she had helped hide some 2,000 families. Reports have described her network as “a vigilante labyrinth” of “homemakers, ministers and ordinary working people.” People magazine called it “the new underground railroad,” one that involved nervous pay-phone conversations, Greyhound buses, wigs and pillows stuffed under clothing. Runaways stole names from the birth certificates of deceased people. The network apparently consisted of at least 1,000 safe houses.

An underground had previously existed that helped parents and children go into hiding, but Yager turned it into a movement, says Amy Neustein, a sociologist who knew Yager and who is the co-author of From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From the Family Courts—and What Can Be Done About It. “Faye’s role was to show that the system was so desperate, that it was failing so miserably, there was no choice other than to run,” Neustein says. “And Faye’s whole purpose was to publicize this.”

Neustein says the network consisted of people involved in domestic violence shelters, churches and women’s groups. Former nuns would often hide people, as would abuse survivors. “She scrutinized the women very carefully,” Neustein says of Yager’s potential runaways, to “see who had the mettle, the constitution to run.” Yager would only take cases that involved documented abuse, and she helped fathers run too.

Yager’s movement gained momentum at a time when the country was growing increasingly concerned with children and abuse: Congress enacted the Missing Children Act in 1982 and established the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1984; in 1990, the government declared child abuse “a national emergency”; in 1994, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act, which gave added protections to victims of domestic violence. In March 1984, Newsweek put child abduction on its cover, writing, “Kidnappings of children are distressingly easy to commit and notoriously difficult to solve.”

But by the turn of the millennium, Yager’s critics and lawsuits against her from left behind parents were piling up. Parents accused her of kidnapping, interfering with custody and coaching kids into alleging abuse. She once faced 60 years in prison on charges of kidnapping and cruelty to a child. Bipin Shah, a wealthy businessman, appeared on the cover of Time in 1999 when he sued Yager for $100 million for allegedly helping his ex-wife abscond with his daughters. Shah dropped the lawsuit when the girls were found, and soon afterward Yager stepped out of the spotlight. Like the parents she had helped, she seemed to simply disappear.

Yager, whom Time called “a legendary, sharp-tongued Atlanta belle on a holy crusade,” now runs a 14-room bed-and-breakfast with her husband in Brevard, North Carolina—population 7,600. A plaque on the 19th-century home, which contains claw-foot bathtubs and antiques, says it is on the National Register of Historic Places. She was first tracked down there last fall by Minnesota’s Star Tribune.

Now 68, Yager tells Newsweek that she only retired from the public eye, and that she and her network are just as busy as ever.

“My group still exists,” she says in her Southern drawl. “It’s much harder,” she adds, but she’ll still use phony documents and disguises if necessary. “You can still do it, you’ve just got to have a lot more—I don’t want to get into that too much. The FBI just seizes the moment with that, especially where I’m concerned.”

Despite being a media fixture decades ago, appearing in countless magazines and on television, Yager says she never sought the attention. “I felt like it cost me my ability to help these children in the way that I thought they really needed help.”

So now she keeps her work quiet. The number of people she’s “helped,” she says, is “probably over 7,000 now.”

“And when I say helped, I mean not every single family I’m involved with packs up a bag and runs,” she says. “I cherish the calls that I get when the woman calls me before she makes that decision.” Of those people, she estimates, “probably about 3,400 people went on the run.”

Though her phone no longer rings “off the hook” with calls for her assistance, as she says it once did, she still gets two or three “serious” calls per week. But the network is stronger than ever, with even more safe houses than the estimated 1,000 reported decades ago, she says.

“Listen, there’re so many people involved. I wouldn’t have any trouble hiding anybody. I could call up, I could send a family to any battered women’s shelter or anything in this country, and I assure you, they would disappear and families would hide them. It’s that easy. It’s very easy,” she says.


Newsweek ran a cover story about child abduction in 1984, at a time of heightened attention to the issue of child abuse in the United States.

The digital age has made it harder for parents and their kids to go underground, but technology also makes it easier to find support. Those willing to help are no longer confined to hushed conversations in church basements—they’re posting openly online.

Since Sage and Isaac Cook vanished, anti-family-court activists and “protective parents” have taken to the Internet to support Ku. One blogger praised her as a “folk heroine,” and others have posted words of support: “Stay hidden”; “Kick patriarchy in the ass”; “Run far and fast”; “If I see them, I will hide them”; “I will aid and abet if need be.”

Cindy Dumas, executive director of Safe Kids International and the Women’s Coalition, which she describes as social-media-based organizations that aim to alter the family court system, wrote “don’t turn this mom in” online about Ku’s case. In another post, she wrote: “If you see them do NOT contact authorities!…Good mothers are losing custody in epidemic numbers to controlling and abusive fathers.”

Dumas became an advocate after hiding with her sons in the mid-2000s. Unlike members of the “protective parent” movement, which aims to stop family courts from granting custody to abusers, she tells Newsweek that she sees family court injustice as “a civil rights crisis” in which the system is rigged to keep power in the hands of fathers.

That’s why Dumas supports Ku—even though not once in the 700 pages of family court testimonies from Ku’s custody case does anyone allege that Cook was abusive.

“Mothers who are the primary nurturer of their children should retain primary custody,” Dumas says. “That is what is best for the children, that is what’s best for the mother, and that is regardless of whether there’s abuse. For 200 million years, we have been evolving for females to be the ones to nurture their offspring.”

Dumas says she has never directly helped a mother go into hiding, but when women call begging for help, she refers them to people she knows. “It’s a very loose movement, and it’s very fluid. And that’s the only way it can survive.”

This underground network has evolved since it made headlines in the 1980s and ’90s, she says. “It’s just done in a different way. It’s done in a smarter way, in a more elusive way. It’s like an arms race, you know? They have come up with ways to catch us, and we have to come up with ways to not be caught,” she says. Dumas compares the people who hide parents and children to those who hid Jews during the Holocaust.

Neustein, the sociologist, also says that the underground still exists, and that she has heard in recent years from parents who have received help hiding their children. “Now it’s much more demure, covert, it’s not publicized,” she says. “Human nature never changes. So just as many are trying self-remedy when they become disgusted with the courts.” Thanks to online groups and postings, she adds, “the validating experience is happening much sooner. They’re realizing they’re not crazy, that there’s a whole movement afoot.”

In Minnesota, a case allegedly involving the contemporary underground is underway in which a mother, a couple that owns a ranch and another woman are facing charges of parental alienation for allegedly helping to hide teenage sisters Samantha and Gianna Rucki for two and a half years. One of those facing charges in the case, Dede Evavold, runs a website that criticizes the family court system. She has denied any involvement in a formal network, but has acknowledged that she and the others facing charges all know one another. Lawyers for the ranch owners also deny that the couple is involved in any network. They are scheduled to next appear in court in March.

Robert Lowery Jr., vice president of the missing-children division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has acknowledged to Newsweek that the center has “had some experiences” with people or groups that help noncustodial parents hide their kids. “We just want to find the children and make sure they’re safe,” he has said.

But Child Find of America, another missing-children agency, is hesitant to label who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong in these situations. “Maybe it is very likely that those groups are the only thing keeping the child who was being abused safe,” says program director Shari Doherty. “Unfortunately, sometimes ‘safe’ isn’t legal.”


Sage, right, and Isaac Cook, left, disappeared in August 2015 and are believed to be with Faye Ku, their noncustodial mother. Their father and stepmother have joined the ranks of parents struggling while their children are missing.

Ku met Cook when they were students at the University of California, Berkeley. They married after they’d graduated, and eventually moved to the Seattle area. He got a job at Microsoft, and she stayed at home or worked occasional odd jobs while they raised their boys. Sage is now 15, and Isaac is 9. The couple separated in 2008 and divorced a year later.

“We realized we were incompatible, we didn’t cooperate well, that we fought all the time about trivial things,” Cook says. “Her behavior and her views seemed odd to me, but I thought maybe that’s how it always was, that couples have to cooperate and have to try to see things from each other’s point of view.”

Sage and Isaac split time living with both parents until 2012, when Ku decided to allow the boys to live with Cook full-time. On paper, however, they shared custody, and they disagreed about how to raise the children. Ku would later claim in court that Cook was not a nurturing father, in part because he has Asperger’s syndrome. He acknowledges that he has been informally diagnosed, but maintains that he is a loving father.

In 2013, Ku told Cook she wanted to take the kids for the summer to Taiwan, where she was born. He agreed, but only if they put the travel plans in writing—an agreement that never materialized. On June 13, 2013, Ku unexpectedly picked up the boys from school and told their nanny and Cook that she was taking them for an overnight visit.

Cook told his lawyer about the unplanned overnight, and the lawyer discovered there were one-way plane tickets to Taiwan booked under the boys’ names. So Cook rushed to the airport and informed the police, who arrested Ku before takeoff. Cook got temporary full custody, and Ku was allowed visitation.

A year later, Ku petitioned for custody and testified in family court that she hadn’t intended to kidnap the boys, and that she had thought that Cook had agreed to the trip. Cook told the court that he was worried that if he sent the boys to L.A. to visit her, she would take them.

One year later, Cook’s fear was realized.

Ku had a vast Internet presence, and Cook thinks it’s possible that people she met online are helping her hide. Additionally, Ku’s son Zephyr, a toddler, who has a different father, is also considered missing. There are multiple websites registered in her name, and she appears to have posted in various online forums, frequently with the pseudonym “littlefaith.”

In 2014, she wrote in a series of cryptic Facebook status updates, “I’m a standard deviation away from every kind of normal that you can think of.… I AM THE EXCEPTION TO YOUR RULE.” In 2015, months before disappearing, she wrote, “The problem is I am not in the box, and the people in the box can’t see the box.”

Parental Kidnapping Rescue abducted children recovery

Ku even commented on a post about a family court awarding custody to an alleged abuser, just two weeks before her disappearance, expressing wariness at first (“How do we know what is really happening in this case?”), but then writing: “I’m against our current system of having police involved in families, even in cases of molestation or physical abuse. It only increases the danger and tragedy for everyone.”

Newsweek’s attempts to contact Ku were unsuccessful. The lawyer who represented her in the custody case, Terry Zundel, says Ku was appealing for custody and likely representing herself at the time she went missing.

Dietrich, the FBI spokeswoman, says the agency is monitoring the online support for Ku and that such postings help “drive another set of leads. It means there’s other people that we want to talk to, people that might be connected with that movement or people who are familiar with how those work.”

One friend, Maureen Sklaroff, says, “She’s very nice and very caring about other people. Very smart.” Other friends offered similar testimony in family court.

But the father of Ku’s son Zephyr says that “she’s narcissistic and doesn’t believe fathers have intrinsic rights.… She is a loving mother but sociopathically selfish when it comes to co-parenting.” He says she did not let him have a relationship with his son. He asked that Newsweek not print his name because he did not want it associated with the missing-children case.

“She definitely questions every societal norm,” Sklaroff says. Ku posted on Facebook about being against vaccines and “government control,” and intensely advocated for homeschooling.

One place where law enforcement believes Ku and the boys may be is her native Taiwan, which does not belong to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an agreement among 72 countries and additional territories to aid in the return of abducted children.

Following the recent deadly earthquake in southern Taiwan, Sklaroff posted on Facebook, tagging her friend Ku: “If you happen to be where there was an earthquake recently, I hope you all are okay. It sounds like the worst damage was not near where you might happen to have been, if you were somewhere that had an earthquake.”

But with the Cooks and the FBI poring over posts like that one, it’s possible that she may have only been trying to confuse things further.

“I think they’re afraid to be found,” Cook says of the boys. “They wouldn’t go away and intentionally not see us anymore, but I think they believe they’re in a situation where they have to choose.”

Several hours after Newsweek published this article, the FBI announced that authorities had located Sage and Isaac Cook in the state of Sinaola, Mexico and that they had reunited with their father and returned to Washington state. Faye Ku has been deported to the United States and is scheduled to appear in court on February 16 on charges of international parental kidnapping, the FBI said.

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Were Hebrew Union College Rabbi’s Grandchildren Snatched by Mother?

September 10, 2015


Los Angeles police are searching for two Jewish brothers who disappeared nearly two weeks ago and are believed to have been abducted by their Taiwanese-American mother.

Faye Ku

The children’s parents are divorced and live in different cities. The two brothers, Sage Cook, 14, and Isaac Cook, 9, flew on Aug. 28 from their father’s home in Seattle to visit their mother in Los Angeles for the weekend.

The boys were due to return to Seattle on Aug. 30 but never showed up for their flight. They were last seen around noon at Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 28 with their mother, Faye Ku, and her own 2-year-old son. Their father, David Cook, has full custody of the two boys and their passports in hand.

Hebrew Union College is helping spread word about the missing children; their grandfather, Rabbi Michael Cook, is a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

Ku left a note saying she had taken the children, HUC said in an email, noting that she had attempted a similar abduction several years ago but was foiled at Kennedy Airport in New York while boarding a flight to Taiwan.

Ku has taken pains to erase her tracks, leaving her credit cards, car and cell phones behind, according to HUC.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has issued a special bulletin asking for the public’s assistance in the parental abduction case. Anyone with information about the missing children is urged to contact detectives at 562-623-3500.

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Lakewood Sheriff’s Ask for Help in Parental Abduction of Sage and Isaac Cook

September 3, 2015


LAKEWOOD (CNS) – Sheriff’s detectives asked for the public’s help today finding two children who were allegedly abducted by their mother, a Lakewood woman who gave their father a falsified court document ordering a supervised visit.

Faye Ku

Sage Cook, 14, and Isaac Cook, 9, were last seen Aug. 28 at Los Angeles International Airport, where they had just arrived on a flight from Washington state, according to Capt. Keith E. Swensson of the sheriff’s Lakewood station.

The children live with their biological father in Washington. He has had full custody of the children since their parents divorced in 2009, according to the sheriff’s department. But their mother, 41-year-old Faye Ku, presented the children’s father with what appeared to be a “supervised visit” court order issued by the state of Washington, sheriff’s officials said.

Thinking it was a legitimate order, he sent the children to Los Angeles.

After gathering the children at the airport and taking them to her Lakewood home, she disappeared, Swennson said. “Ms. Ku also employed an unsuspecting witness to aid her,” according to Swensson, who added that Ku also has a 2-year-old son named Zephyr who could also be traveling with them. Zephyr is the missing children’s half-brother. “Ms. Ku and the children’s whereabouts are unknown at this time,” he said. “Our detectives have been in contact with federal authorities, as well as several local agencies.”

He said Ku also intentionally left behind personal belongings at her home to prevent law enforcement from tracking her whereabouts. “In a prepared letter, she blamed the children’s father for trying to control them, and asked him to leave them alone,” he said.


According to the sheriff’s department, Ku tried to take Sage and Isaac to Taiwan on June 12, 2013, but they were detained by law enforcement before they were able to board the flight.

Swensson said Ku has contacts in California, New Mexico and Texas. She also has friends in Tijuana, Mexico. Ku, who is of Chinese descent, is 5-foot-3 with black hair and black eyes. Anyone with any information was asked to call (562) 623-3500.

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