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Don’t punish Salases

May 22, 2010

The hoopla surrounding the disappearance of Nancy Salas, the 22-year-old who went missing during a supposed jog, was understandable.

Her car, wallet and phone were all left behind. She was active in her church and beloved by her friends. With the recent murders of Chelsea King, 17, and Amber Dubois, 14, Salas’ disappearance had a lot of people feeling uneasy. Thousands of dollars and dozens of police officials were dedicated to the ensuing search, which included bloodhounds and a helicopter. Scenes of tearful parents once again filled our television screens.

But this time, it suddenly ended with relief. Salas was found alive in Merced after having ditched everything for a bus and train ride to the Central Valley city. No horrific kidnapping story, or worse, a shallow grave.


Instead, hers was a story of a student who was too afraid to tell her parents that she had dropped out of UCLA, and then more than a year later, too afraid to admit the lie to just about everyone she knew.

It’s impossible to know how such an exhausting double life affected Salas psychologically, but it apparently pushed her to take the drastic step of dropping everything, leaving her family and friends to fear her as dead. But surely, whatever worst-case scenario she had built up in her head for confessing to her parents did not involve a full-on missing person search and the media onslaught that delved into her online life for clues.

And then there’s the aftermath. Some in the community have expressed outrage over Salas’ decision to cut and run, leaving the city with the bill for the search. Others have rebuked her for allowing her family to consider the worst, and for lying to her friends and church. These are all very public repercussions of a series of questionable choices that Salas and her family will no doubt spend some time sorting through.

But to push for some sort of financial restitution, especially from a family that by all accounts was pushed down the slide with the rest of us, would be a bad precedent.

Though perhaps police should have first considered the possibility that the disappearance was a personal choice and not an abduction, they were correct to err on the side of caution. Because sadly, for every Salas, there is a Chelsea and an Amber.

If Merced police pursue charges for filing a false report, so be it. But as for this community, we should let a family wrestle with its own issues in its own way without the burden of civil judgment. Enough of that in public discourse has been passed already.

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