A missing woman’s mom is still desperately searching for her 20-year-old daughter after she vanished in San Diego nearly a month ago following a heated fight with her boyfriend.
Cheryl Walker said that her daughter, Lateche Norris, flew to San Diego to be with her boyfriend, Joey Smith, who was struggling with addiction.
“My daughter followed a troubled man out here that she loves,” Walker, who lives in Indiana, wrote in a Nov. 27 Facebook post three days after landing in San Diego to search for her daughter.
Walker said she lost contact with Lateche in early November, and the young woman hasn’t been seen since Nov. 4, when she was spotted outside a San Diego convenience store.
The concerned mom said she last spoke with her daughter on Nov. 5, when Lateche called from a stranger’s phone and told her she had gotten into a heated dispute “for hours” with her boyfriend the night before.
“You call me back! I love you,” Walker recalled telling her daughter during the fateful call. She wrote that she remembered her daughter’s final words at the time: “I will Momma, I promise, I love you more.”
Lateche never called back, her mom said.
Since then, Walker has made desperate calls to her daughter’s boyfriend—but the calls haven’t been returned, KNSD reported. Walker reported to the San Diego Police Department that her daughter was missing on Nov. 9. She later departed with a one-way ticket to San Diego with her husband and Lateche’s dad to look for her daughter.
Her anxieties have deepened because the young couple has struggled with domestic violence in the past, she said.
In detailed allegations against her daughter’s boyfriend, Walker told The Independent that Smith had previously cut up her daughter’s ID card, barred her access to her own social media accounts, and demanded that she go for intermittent periods without her phone.
She said it was only later that she discovered that Smith was the Aptos arsonist, who was accused of vandalizing 16 cars with a baseball bat and setting three on fire in a Santa Cruz neighborhood. In 2016, he was sentenced to a year in jail, ordered to complete a substance abuse program, and was expected to pay $37,000 in restitution, KSBW reported at the time.
Before Lateche left for San Diego, Walker said she remembered overhearing her daughter’s boyfriend promise over the phone that after she arrived the two would “get a tent and stay on the beach a few days,” and that he would soon start a construction job.
The San Diego Police Department on Tuesday said that Norris is considered an “at-risk” person since she has now been missing for several weeks, and they have not received reports of verifiable contact with her since she was last seen in black leggings and a black sweatshirt with a checkered backpack on Nov. 4 outside of a 7-Eleven in San Diego.
“While there is no evidence to suggest she is the victim of a crime at this time, the Missing Persons Unit has followed up on every available tip and lead to date,” SDPD said in a statement. “Police continue to use all resources at their disposal to find Ms. Norris. We need anyone with information, sightings, tips, or leads to come forward.”
The updated designation comes after Walker criticized the San Diego Police Department for refusing to believe that she was at-risk.
Whitney Sich, who said she was recruited in the search for Lateche and has organized hunts for missing people through the Facebook group “True Crime Sisters,” told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that she feels the police have become “desensitized” to San Diego’s homeless population and overlooked Lateche’s case.
“I feel like they’re just treating this as just another girl who went out West and fell into the homeless population,” Sich said. “In reality she was in grave danger from the minute we called police and said she’s in grave danger.”
In addition to getting support in her search from Sich, Walker has organized a GoFundMe page to help cover lodgings, food, and printing costs as Walker and her husband continue their hunt in San Diego.
“We hang flyers, pass them out, place them under windshield wipers, leave copies anywhere we order food from.” she wrote on Facebook, describing encounters with mothers she meets on the city’s streets. “I watch empathy transition to grief and they console me as if the outcome is already decided.”
In spite of the weeks that have passed without word from her daughter, Walker remains determined in her search.
“I refuse to think the worst,” Walker told KSWB-TV. “I fight that urge, I won’t allow it to make me become non-optimistic.”