A teen girl’s disappearance into a dark underworld puts her mother’s investigative skills to the test, in a desperate race against time.
Diane M. Bassett is a child advocate based in Longview, WA. She never imagined she’d need her training in such a personal way, until her daughter Samantha jumped from her second-story window and disappeared into the cold May night.
Despite Diane’s training, she was blindsided by her daughter’s disappearance. And then, an early morning phone call sent her anxiety spiraling toward panic: A parent had seen Samantha’s text messages to a friend and explained to Bassett that her daughter had a secret night life.
This was no longer the story of a rebellious teen acting out. This was now a race against the clock to rescue a young girl from herself—a teenager about to plunge into the dark world of sex trafficking. That phone call launched a desperate effort to save Sam from a pimp and drug dealer, who was plotting to let two men “try her out” and possibly buy her.
Within minutes of Samantha jumping, Diane began a search-and-compile mission in Samantha’s room. Suddenly, her degree in criminal justice, and the skills she learned from training in CASA and Truancy Board, were the tools she would use to save her daughter.
In her new book, 17 Hours: Tracking Down Our Runaway, Diane details the events of that day: searching for information, compiling leads, and using what she learned to rescue Sam—all in just 17 hours. Unlike the typical runaway book, this book isn’t about Samantha’s experiences while away from the home, although her notes are included throughout the book. Instead, this book focuses on what Diane did, in less than a day’s time, to locate and secure her. The book includes a “Quick Tip Guide,” of use to anyone searching for a runaway, or for anyone who’s gone missing.
With Samantha’s blessing, 17 Hours: Tracking Down Our Runaway, was self-published this year with the goal of helping families searching for a runaway child. “The ‘officials’ kept telling me to expect it to take months to find her,” said Bassett. “When your child is being sold, nothing short of immediately will do!”
An excerpt from Diane Bassett’s 17 Hours: Tracking Down Our Runaway appears below. In this section, Diane and her husband Gary exchange messages with Sienna, a former runaway and friend of Samantha’s who contacted Diane through Facebook and agreed to help locate Sam.
Adapted from 17 Hours: Tracking Down Our Runaway, by Diane Bassett:
A call from Gary: “What are they in? Did you get a car make yet? What side of the mall are they on?” Gary sounds desperate and is practically screaming at me.
“I don’t know, I’m trying to find out. But they have her Gary, they have her!”
“I know, Diane, but we don’t. We’re not there yet.”
I sniffle back my excitement and settle down; he’s right, we don’t have her yet.
4:03pm Facebook message sent to Sienna: “Yes thank you! What kind of car are you in?” Gary is on the phone asking me if she’s responded, and I’m refreshing my Facebook page every few seconds in case she has, but no word.
“Can you look this girl up on the web, Diane? Can you search out her address like you do on other people?”
“I can try, Gary. I’ll call you back in a few minutes if I get lucky.”
I plug what I know about this girl into my search programs and start trying to track down where she might live. If she goes quiet, we aren’t any better off than when we started.
4:08pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “She’s at my house.” The notification ping and message throw my heart into racing speed. Here we go…
4:08pm Facebook response to Sienna :“What’s your address Sienna?” I hold my breath. Will she give it to me? Am I about to get the address of where Sam is?
4:09pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “Don’t come right now please let me talk to her. My address is: 3810 Mondon lane. Me and her are going on a walk imma talk to her.” Omg I have the address of where Sam is!
4:09pm Call to Gary. “I have the address! I’m plugging it into google now.” Because Gary insists on using a flip phone, he has no access to handy modern phone features like mapping or GPS. This requires me to be his internet and relay the information as I receive it.
“Where am I headed?”
“3810 Mondon Lane. It’s over by the Parsely Center. Where Sam took homeschool PE in 7th grade.”
“I’ll head to that neighborhood. You plug it in to Google so you can lead me in.”
I plug the address in, but it looks like it’s a small lane and could be difficult to locate. I describe the entrance to Gary. He can’t locate it and starts circling the block. I plug it back into Google, but it still shows the entrance where I’m telling him. “Let me call the cops and get them going over there. I’ll call you back.” I don’t wait for a response but hang up and dial 911.
“This is Diane Geister. There is a warrant for my daughter and I’ve just discovered the address of where she is. Can I get a car over there to pick her up please?”
The operator takes the address down and says they’ll send a car as soon as they can.
I call Gary back. “The cops are sending a car that way. Did you find the street entrance?”
“No, I’m making one more swing around the block. I don’t know where Google is seeing this street, but I’m not.”
I can’t believe after all this. It’s coming down to finding a small lane entrance. I describe in detail where Google shows the entrance, and drop down to street level so I can describe what I’m seeing. “It’s there Gary, you HAVE to find it.”
“I’m hanging up so I can concentrate, I’ll call you when I find it.” He hangs up, and I go back to working Sienna.
4:18pm I post an update to Facebook: “Not yet…Closing in. I’m holding my breath.”
I hope Sienna is seeing the post and realizing every second is killing me. I wait and watch to see if she likes it, or responds. Nothing.
Gary calls. He found the street. “I don’t think that qualifies as a street. It looks like a driveway with one tiny little sign hidden behind a tree. That took me forever.”
“Are you there now? Outside her house?”
“Yes. I’m backed up just outside her gate. She won’t get by me.” I breathe a tiny sigh of relief. Gary is just feet away from her now!
4:23pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “Text me when you gonna come.”
“I just got a Facebook message from her, Gary. Do you want me to tell her you’re there already?”
“Hang on, I got out to look around a bit, see what I’m up against. Give me a few minutes. I want to check out where to hide. Are the cops coming?”
“They say they are. I’ll call them real quick and call you back.”
I call the police. They tell me there’s a car heading down that way.
I call Gary back. “Car on its way. Should we delay trying to capture her and let them handle it?”
“If we can. I’m not waiting though. They’ll need to hurry.”
The phone rings and I put Gary on hold. It’s the police. They’re not finding a warrant on file for Samantha.
“It’s there. Troy [Sam’s probation officer] put it through this afternoon. We’re snagging her in a few minutes and bringing her in to juvenile. We need that warrant to hold her. Where’s the warrant?!”
“We’ll contact Troy and get back to you, ma’am. But in the meantime, the officers won’t be able to intervene in this matter.” They hang up and I immediately dial Troy. It goes to voicemail. “Troy, it’s Diane. Where’s Sam’s warrant? I’m trying to get her picked up, and the cops are saying there’s no warrant. I need that warrant, Troy! Call me back please!”
I switch back to Gary. “What’s going on, Diane?”
“They can’t find her warrant, so the cops can’t come pick her up.”
“Are you telling me we’ve located her and they won’t come get her because they screwed up and don’t have the warrant ready?!”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. It’s up to us, Gary. Grab her anyway.”
“Oh I will, but then what?!”
“You grab her and I’ll work the warrant end. I’m telling Sienna you’re there.”
4:34pm Facebook response to Sienna: “Her Dad is outside waiting outside of your fence.”
“I’ve let her know you’re out there Gary.”
“I found a great place to tuck in by the gate exit. The jeep can’t be seen, and I’ll be able to grab her pretty easily, I think.”
4:34pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “I need to talk to her still.”
4:34pm Facebook response to Sienna: “He’s not leaving.” Not a chance!
4:34pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “You said half an hour.”
4:35pm Facebook response to Sienna: “He isn’t doing more than waiting for you to text me. And it was half an hour.”
This girl is making me nervous. Come on Sienna, get Sam out that gate. Just get her out the gate.
4:35pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “Okay… so don’t tell Sam I set her up please, say you tracked her phone because I can’t loose her. And okay hold on she’s in the bathroom.”
The police call. I throw Gary on hold again. There is no warrant on record. If we bring her to juvenile detention, they won’t hold her. I desperately try and explain our situation to the bored-sounding clerk, but the message is the same. No warrant…No hold.
4:36pm Facebook response to Sienna: “Do what you need to just get her to her Dad. I think he backed up out of view.”
I call Troy again and beg him to respond about the warrant.
4:37pm Facebook message received from Sienna: “Okay. We’re about to walk down the driveway so be ready.”
“Gary, they’re coming out now!”
“I’m putting my phone on the Jeep seat, face up, so you can hear. But I want my hands free, Diane. Ok?”
“Whatever works. Just get her, Gary. Please don’t let her get by you!”
“I won’t, Diane. I promise you, I won’t.”
4:41pm Facebook response to Sienna: “Ok, he should be there.”
4:41pm I email Pat, the director of all Juvenile Services. “Pat this is Diane Geister, your ex-student. Samantha and her dad, Gary, are headed to your detention center. They will be turned away. She was listed as a runaway this morning, has a pimp, involved in sex trafficking. Her PO Troy talked to me this morning and claimed he got a warrant signed for her. No one can find it anywhere nor reach him. Please lock her up. Please, or she’ll run. This is ridiculous—he would lie about a warrant and then fail to respond to calls all day for multiple people. They are going to be there any minute… Please HELP! Diane Geister.” I include my phone number, title it, “URGENT URGENT URGENT,” and hope for the best.
There is no air in this room. I’m trying to suck in a breath, but my chest is squeezed in a vice. My head is swimming, my chest is doing strange convulsive movements, but there’s no air going in me.
“She’s coming. I have to be ready,” Gary whispers into the phone before dropping it on the driver’s seat of his Jeep. Everything goes quiet and still, and then screaming. I can hear Samantha in the background shouting at her Dad and him yelling back. There’s the sound of feet running past the jeep and people shouting.
“What’s happening?” I scream, but no one is close enough to answer. “What’s happening?!” I scream it over and over again. “Someone answer me, oh please, someone answer me.” My heart feels like it’s barely beating as the tears flow down my face. At least I know she is in his sight. At least she is alive! Thank you, God.
I cry openly as the last 17 hours wash over me. She is alive. She is alive! My breath is ragged, and the tears flow as I wait for what seems an endless amount of time for someone to update me. Has he caught her? Has she slipped away? Is the pimp there? Will Gary be safe? Oh please, Lord, oh please let them be safe.
More noises and shouting as I hear the door of the Jeep open. The phone is jostled, and I start screaming for someone to talk to me. “Do you have her, do you have her?” I scream it over and over again until I hear Gary’s voice on the other end of the line.
About the author:
Diane M. Bassett is a writer, a fierce child advocate, a gamer, and a fan of backseat motorcycle riding. She is a former CASA and Truancy Board member and lives in Longview, Washington. You can order 17 Hours: Tracking Down Our Runaway, her EVVY award-winning true-life novel, on amazon.com.