Missing Glendale woman faked abduction story

GLENDALE, Calif. Nancy Salas, 22, was found in good condition, but the circumstances surrounding her disappearance were unclear until she divulged the truth to detectives Thursday night.

With her parents by her side, Salas walked out of the Glendale Police Station right into the arms of her church pastor, for a long and emotional embrace, relieved to be home but not ready to face reporters.

She stuck to her knifepoint-abduction story until she was flown back home to Glendale. Her disappearance sparked a massive police search in the canyons around her home after her family told authorities that she went for a jog in Chevy Chase Canyon at around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday and never returned. She left her cell phone, keys and car behind. Thursday morning, she was discovered in Merced, 300 miles north of Los Angeles.

A store clerk said Salas showed up at Carpet One Floor and Home in downtown Merced, claiming she had been kidnapped at knifepoint.

Melanie Mittelsteadt said Salas walked into the store on Main Street at around 11 a.m. looking distraught. She said Salas was crying and asked her to call 911.

Mittelsteadt said she called police and then handed the phone to Salas.

"She did tell the police when they had shown up that she was running in the morning and there was an older man and he had just kind of pushed her into his car. It didn't seem like she really knew maybe where she was," said the clerk.

Salas described the alleged kidnapper as a man in his 50s with black hair and white streaks, but the descriptions as well as the rest of the story were made up. Glendale police confirm that Salas fabricated her story.

"We have a very unfortunate situation where Miss Salas fled the area as a result of pressure from the idolization that she was getting from her family, friends and her church," said Glendale police Sgt. Tom Lorenz.

Salas' parents and friends believe that Salas, an active Christian, was an excellent student about to graduate with a sociology degree from UCLA. They were even planning a party.

"Because of the fact that she was expected to graduate and the family was planning the graduation, she could no longer face the stress she was facing," said Lorenz.

Salas admitted to detectives that she had planned her disappearance, complete with bus and train schedules, because she couldn't handle the pressures of school. Salas had been lying to her parents about her enrollment at UCLA, and could not hold up to the stresses of an impending fake graduation.

Upon word of Salas' safety, a sense of doom in the Salas household was displaced by joy Thursday afternoon. Family and friends gave tearful embraces and prayers of thanks in the family's living room after hearing that Salas was in Merced police custody.

"The most important for me is that I know that she's alive. She's OK," said Henry Salas, Nancy's father.

Asked what message he had for his daughter, he replied: "I love you, I love you. That is the only message."

News of Salas' whereabouts came just hours after police discovered that the woman had misled her parents by telling them she was attending the University of California, Los Angeles and was about to graduate. However, the university reported that the third-year student and sociology major was last enrolled at UCLA in fall 2008.

"There is obviously deception; I don't want to call it a double life," Glendale police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

Her friends were mystified, and many believe the university's record search was wrong. Salas' friend Leonardo Chusan told Eyewitness News that she was currently enrolled in one science class at the school.

Salas' former roommate Grace Sanglang said Salas didn't seem to be under any unusual stress when she saw her last month.

"She was taking one class at UCLA so maybe they just said that she wasn't full-time enrolled but she was part-time enrolled and at least taking classes," said Salas' friend and former roommate Grace Sanglang.

Sanglang said Salas is an active Christian. She said Salas doesn't have any family or personal troubles, and believes she would never intentionally deceive the people she loves.

"I know if she would be going through something she would tell me and confide in me. And she was fine when I recently talked to her," she added. "I just know her character and I know she's very trustworthy and very honest, so I don't know why she would deceive like that."

Salas' family members, who acknowledged they had been planning a graduation party for the woman, didn't seem concerned about whether she was enrolled at UCLA.

"Nancy, the most important thing for me is that you are going to be home. Other than that, that's not important to me," said Henry Salas.

Police say that Salas took a bus and a train to flee home and arrive in Merced. But when she arrived there alone, all she could think about was her family.

Glendale detectives flew to Merced to question Salas, but it wasn't until they brought her back home that she broke down and told them the truth.

Salas' father said Thursday that the only thing that matters is that his daughter is safe.

"That's the best thing that ever happened to me. Thank you so much for all your support," Salas' father Henry Salas told reporters. "My daughter is here with us. She trusts us and she knows that we're going to support her from now on."

Merced authorities have yet to determine if Salas will be charged with filing a false police report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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