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Friends hope for teen's safe return

Roughly 50 people lit candles and stood Wednesday evening in a light drizzle on Ashland’s Plaza, urging missing high-schooler Hannah Thomas-Garner to call home and let friends and family know she’s not exposed to the dangers of the open road, where she was last seen Dec. 1.

Ashland police consider the girl to be a runaway, not an abductee, and most speakers at the vigil referred to her in those terms — not as the victim of a crime.

“I can understand her being a teenager and going through puberty and all the stresses ... and I don’t feel blame or anger. I’ve felt the frustration and wanting to run away, the feeling of not having control,” said friend Fox McDowell, an Ashland High School senior, as she addressed the vigil.

“She’s not trying to hurt people. I don’t know if she’s creating a new life somewhere, but I ask that she keep in touch and let us know she’s not alone. That can be pretty frightening.”

McDowell said she’s heard from “different people” that Thomas-Garner, called Moose, is “with someone and being fed and is not on the freeway, which is very dangerous. Moose, if you hear this, get in contact with your parents and let us know you’re alive.”

A friend of the family, Jen Sturges, told the crowd that Thomas-Garner took care of her cat every other day, but didn’t show up the day after she disappeared. 

“She’s very engaging, very real,” said Sturges. “Her mother said Sunday that she’d run away. I’ve been so impressed with her. This is almost unbelievable to me. If she’d call home, that would be great.”

The girl’s father, Jeff Garner of Kilgore, Texas, said he’s here “to spread rays of awareness and positive energy out for her."

The girl vacationed with him and relatives in Texas last summer, and she seemed “happy and normal, having fun in life. We texted all the time about things in school.”

She was in AP (advanced placement) psychology and anatomy-physiology, he adds.

“What this all says to me is that Hannah had something troubling her. I’m not sure what she was thinking. It seems, by the course of events, that she needed to run from something — or that something happened we don’t know about.”

Garner said he went to the scene of her bashed Ford Focus, found behind the Best Western Motel by the north offramp at Mount Shasta City, California, and that he thought it could be the sort of damage caused by a deer impact.

Thomas-Garner had planned to run away with a female classmate, he said, but that plan was aborted. 

“My opinion about it all is that I don’t know,” said Garner. “She was getting A’s and B’s, except a C in Algebra. We’d talked plans after high school, with a possible goal as a physical therapist.

“She was very loving, caring. As an example, she always made her gifts, like pot holders, not go out and buy them, Garner said.

Gillian Mullane, a friend and AHS junior, said the girl was very verbal in her participation in AP psychology, and it’s important to spread awareness and positive energy and to support the community in its search.

Rev. Paula Sohl of Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ told the vigil that the events are “amazing and maddening,” especially given that it’s “a dangerous time to be a teen, whether under the influence of substances or not.”

Interstate 5, she cautioned, is a corridor where “sex trafficking is said to be rampant. If she’s missing by choice, we should expect she’d let someone know. Since that’s not the case we have good reason to be concerned.”

Thomas-Garner is said to have left a party near milepost 13 on Dead Indian Memorial Road on Saturday, Nov. 29. She was reported to have hitchhiked from Mount Shasta to Dunsmuir, California, on Monday, Dec. 1, said a driver who picked her up.

According to Ashland police, he said she appeared to be healthy, in good spirits and traveling south to the Fresno area or somewhere warm. A second witness reported seeing a girl matching Thomas-Garner's description hitchhiking at mid-day Monday on Interstate 5 in the Dunsmuir area.

One of the three Ashland girls backed out of the runaway scheme. The other, Sylvia Davis, 15, was found safe Dec. 5 in Humboldt County, California.

Thomas-Garner is 5-foot-6, 137 pounds and has blond hair and blue eyes. Anyone with information about Thomas-Garner's whereabouts is asked to call Ashland police at 541-482-5211.

Email Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.