How Kent Police found missing 18-year-old autistic woman

Video showed her getting into a man’s vehicle; she stayed at his home

NiAni Rashaard. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

NiAni Rashaard. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

When an 18-year-old autistic woman went missing for five days earlier this month in Kent, it turns out a man picked her up in his vehicle and reportedly took the woman to his Kent home to help her.

Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla revealed this week that it took detailed investigative work by detectives and officers to locate NiAni Rashaard, who was reported missing May 30 after she failed to return home from a friend’s house near the Riverwood Apartments in the 24600 block of Russell Road South.

“Our detectives located a video that ultimately depicted NiAni getting into a car with a gentleman and driving away,” Padilla said during his public safety report June 15 to the Kent City Council.

Padilla said detectives were able to track down a license plate number for that vehicle and eventally located a residence for the vehicle in Kent.

“Officers and detectives responded to the residence and NiAna was safe and sound,” Padilla said. “Miraculously, she was not harmed. We did an in-depth debrief and follow-up investigation and we feel very confidenet that she was not harmed in any way.”

Rashaard disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house. Police held a press conference on June 3 featuring comments from Rashaard’s mother, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Kent Police Cmdr. Robert Hollis asking for the public’s help to find the missing woman.

Police reported that Rashaard was found late on the night of June 4.

“To our knowledge there wasn’t a prior relationship between them,” Padilla said in a June 17 email to the Kent Reporter about the relationship between the 52-year-old man and Rashaard.

Padilla was uncertain why the man didn’t come forward to police after numerous media reports about the missing woman.

“I don’t have information on that,” Padilla said. “It’s’ possible he didn’t see the media coverage, but I don’t know that.”

Padilla said the man doesn’t face any charges.

“At this point, there is no indication that any crimes were committed,” Padilla said.

Detectives determined the man had tried to assist Rashaard.

“I don’t want to get into the specifics of what he said, but I will say that he expressed that he was trying to help her,” Padilla said.

The chief credited the hard work of detectives and officers for finding Rashaard.

“I want to thank our officers and detectives for a phenomenal job,” he said to the council. “We were doing everything we could to locate her. …and we got word out to the community.”

Padilla said it took hours of work by detectives and officers.

“These cases very often come down to the dogged pursuit of information and leads and hours of follow-up and investigation by our detectives,” he said. “In a case like this, they work nonstop, taking time to sleep and then back to work until the case is resolved.

“If there were video to be found, we found it and reviewed it. If there were people to be contacted, they were contacted and questioned.”

Police worked with local businesses and residents in the area to track down tips and surveillance video.

Padilla said all hands were on deck, including the department’s special operations, special investigations and major crimes units.

Kent Police also received assistance from Guardian One, the King County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that searched the area, and from Puget Sound Fire’s rescue boat that searched the Green River.

“The bottom line is this was excellent police work in tracking down the video and coming to this very positive outcome,” Padilla said.

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