Catawba County officials said an 11-year-old girl who went missing after getting off the school bus Tuesday afternoon has been found. Deputies said she walked out of a wooded area Wednesday evening and said she had been hiding.
Police said earlier Wednesday that the case was being investigated as a possible runaway.
Emily Dowdle, a student at Catawba Elementary School, was reported missing after she was last seen by her bus driver about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday. She was getting off the bus at her stop and heading to her home on Hudson Chapel Road.
Wednesday, officials said they didn't suspect foul play. According to police, Emily had skipped school nine times and was in trouble.
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Her dad dropped her off at school Tuesday morning and her mom didn't get home until 3 p.m., nearly 20 minutes after Dowdle got off the bus, police say. The FBI said a family member called 911 about 3:30 p.m. to report Dowdle missing.
People in the small town of Catawba were very worried.
"It's scary," said Robert Wilson. He lives two doors down from the Dowdle home, within eyesight of where Emily vanished.
The girl's mother came running to Wilson's door on Tuesday afternoon.
"She was crying," Wilson said. "I asked her what happened and she said her daughter was missing."
Emily was dropped off at home by a school bus around 2:45 p.m. Tuesday. Her mother arrived at the house about 20 minutes later. Emily was nowhere to be found.
That's when the mother went to the neighbors and then called 911 for help. It wasn't long before search crews gathered and a massive effort was underway to find the 11-year-old.
More than 24 hours later, that effort continued.
"We believe she left on her own," said FBI spokesperson Shelley Lynch early Wednesday afternoon.
Emily, said authorities, was in trouble. She had skipped school nine times recently, said Catawba Police Chief Duane Cozzen.
"Her parents found out about it Monday," Cozzen said.
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The chief classified the disappearance as that of a runaway. Even so, authorities said it was imperative to find the girl.
"She's only 11," said Lynch. Foul play is not suspected, but the FBI and other agencies consider Emily at risk because of her age.
Ground teams continued to comb through wooded areas and a North Carolina Highway Patrol helicopter searched from above on Wednesday. A roadblock was even set up near the home and residents driving through were asked if they saw anything on Tuesday.
After she was found Wednesday evening, officials said Emily appeared to be in good health, but would be checked out by a medical team just in case.