This story has been updated. The previous version is below.
By Steve Puterski
REGION — A 15-year-old North County girl was found safe last week by Los Angeles police after running away on July 22.
Seraphine Bustillos was located by officers in Venice, California, after one of the officers recognized her from previous contact, according to Brenda Condon, CEO of Cal Advocates for the Missing, a San Diego County-based nonprofit.
Cal Advocates, along with two other organizations — Save in America and Team Amber — partnered with and also received assistance from an unofficial group of individuals in Los Angeles to locate Bustillos after she went missing.
“We don’t know that,” Condon said when asked why Bustillos ran away. “We knew she was with this guy … he had a record in Oregon. Her being a minor, it’s hard for us to say a whole lot.”
Joseph Travers, executive director of the Oceanside-based nonprofit Saved in America, said his team came into the fold several weeks ago. They were able to locate Bustillos’ whereabouts via a social media investigation and worked with LAPD, the Santa Monica Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to find the girl.
The LAPD declined to comment citing an ongoing investigation. Travers said the man was from Oregon and an ex-con, who had been convicted of rape and molestation.
Travers said the concern was Bustillos becoming a victim of sex trafficking, as most missing or runaway girls are approached by a trafficker within 48 hours. He said Bustillos was under the influence of narcotics, a common tactic used by traffickers to keep girls under control.
Travers, a former police officer, said Bustillos is expected to enter a rehabilitation program.
“The family, right now, is under a lot of pressure because they are slowly learning what happened for the past (several) months,” he said. “That can be traumatic.”
Travers’ team consists of former Navy SEALS, British SAS, law enforcement and an active attorney working to locate missing girls. All work other full-time jobs, but their experience brings added resources to crimes the police don’t have to dedicate, he said.
In addition, legalities sometimes prevent law enforcement from obtaining a search warrant or using other methods of rescuing a missing girl, according to a July report from Vice News profiling Saved in America.
“The joy is ‘I got my child back,’” Travers said. “Some kids are just a little more free-spirited than others. She got caught up with the wrong type of ideas.”
Eveline Bustillos, the teen’s mother, did not return calls for comment. Last week she said the LAPD “was awesome” for their efforts in locating her daughter.
PREVIOUS VERSION | REGION — A 15-year-olf Elfin Forest girl missing for nearly three months was found alive this week by Los Angeles police in Venice, according to the girl’s mother, Eveline Bustillos.
Seraphine “Sara” Bustillos ran away on July 22 after cutting through a screen in her bedroom window. She was reunited with her family on Oct. 11.
In August, her parents told The Coast News that their daughter may have left with someone she met online. Weeks later, the group Saved In America, which is made up of former Navy SEALS and other former foreign special forces, told the San Diego NBC affiliate that Bustillos was traveling at one point with an Oregon man who had been convicted of rape and molestation.
The Cal Advocates for the Missing, another organization dedicated to finding missing persons, announced Bustillos’s safe return on their Facebook page yesterday. LAPD officers Mike Putrah, Mike Ruiz and one other worked with the family for the past two-and-a-half weeks searching Venice to find Sera, Eveline Bustillos said.
“They were awesome,” Eveline Bustillos said in an email.
A Los Angeles police department spokesperson declined an interview request because an investigation is ongoing.
“Detectives do not comment on open investigations,” a spokesperson said.
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Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.