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Missing Tiburon girl found safe in Sacramento

Updated: May 25

May 25, 1:30 p.m.: This story has been updated.

Tiburon 12-year-old Emerald Walker, who had been missing for three days, has been found safe in Sacramento and returned to Marin.


Police spokeswoman Laurie Nilsen told The Ark that, based on a tip from one of Walker’s friends who thought she might be in Sacramento, they contacted ride-hailing services — one of which found a fare from Tiburon. Police then asked the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office on May 24 to conduct a welfare check at the destination address, where deputies found Walker safe with a friend and their family, who believed she had permission to stay over, Nilsen said.


“She was well taken care of and OK,” Nilsen said. “We are so happy for the good outcome here. It could not have been better.”

Tiburon police responded and took Walker back to Marin County, where she is now staying with a relative.


Their investigation concluded that Walker was not the victim of a crime, left home voluntarily and traveled to Sacramento on her own, Nilsen said.


The case had been closely watched by the community, including a flyering campaign by residents and an outpouring of support on social media.


Walker had been last seen about 7 a.m. May 21 and was reported missing by her mother about 7 p.m. when she didn’t return home. The California Highway Patrol activated an Ebony Alert on behalf of the Tiburon Police Department, also putting out a statewide alert to other California police agencies and posting on Instagram.


Nilsen said that officers quickly spoke with Walker’s friends and Walker herself on the phone that night, and she said she was not in Tiburon. She reportedly said she would likely come home in the morning, so authorities held off on sending out a Nixle alert to registered cell phones and email addresses that night, Nilsen said. But when the girl didn’t return, the Nixle was sent out early May 22.


Nilsen said Tiburon police brought in an extra officer to dedicate 24-hour staffing to finding Walker and that other officers came in on their days off to help, while all Marin public-safety agencies and Golden Gate Transit bus drivers also helped look for her.


“Everybody thinks of their own kid,” she said. “It goes straight to the heart.”


Nilsen said Tiburon officers had remained in contact with four or five friends who were communicating with Walker, some of whom thought she might be Southern or Central Marin and others suggested Sacramento. They told police Walker said she OK but did not want to be found, though Nilsen said at the time that police were “not going to stop until she is home.”


“That’s not just a runaway, that’s scary,” Nilsen said later. “It’s a big difference between 12 and 17.”


One Tiburon mom started a flyering campaign. Beth Mix, a mother of two young children who lives in downtown Tiburon, said she first heard about Walker’s disappearance through an Instagram post one of her friends sent her on May 21.


She said she called Tiburon police the next morning — one of several residents who said they questioned the initial police response in calls and online posts.


“Just an Instagram post didn’t seem like enough to me,” she said. “If it was my kid, I would want the community, if they have spare time, to help out.”


After learning there wasn’t an official flyer, Mix said she reached out to a local online mom group to help her create one. Once it was finished, she contacted Belvedere-Tiburon Library Director Crystal Duran, who printed 200 copies for free. Mix said she posted the flyers around Tiburon and talked to people at local businesses — some of whom declined to put them up.


Olivia Kane, a student at Rollins College in Florida who is home for the summer, agreed to post more flyers around Tiburon later that day.


“I want to help find her,” Kane said. “I want to be a part of the community and be a good citizen.”


Mix said she thought many people wanted to help but needed more direction.


“I hope and pray that she is reunited with her family,” Mix said at the time. “If we shower them with love, then hopefully we can help all of them through this.”


Other residents took to Nextdoor to spread the word and share their thoughts.


“We so pray for her safe return,” said Debra Diaz of Hawthorne Terrace.


“I hope Emerald is safe and returns home very soon,” said Kimi Brooks of Bel Aire.


Nilsen also dispelled rumors that the officer on the case went on vacation the next day, saying he had been working directly with day-shift officers to continue with the search and eventually was the officer who located Walker.


Ebony Alerts were created in California effective Jan. 1 and are similar to others for specific at-risk individuals — including Feather Alerts for missing indigenous peoples and Silver Alerts for older adults — who don’t meet the criteria for an Amber Alert, which requires, among other things, a reasonable belief an abduction has occurred of a child under 18 who is in imminent danger of serious injury or death.


Children who do not meet Amber Alert requirements are instead listed as runaways and typically receive delayed responses and fewer resources from police. For Black women and children in particular, studies show that those reported missing are both disproportionately identified as runaways and receive less media attention compared with white people and other people of color.


The goal of the Ebony Alert is to bring more attention and resources to missing Black youth ages 12-25, as Black children made up some 40% of missing youth in 2022, even though the Black population makes up about 12.5% of people living in the U.S.


Executive Editor Kevin Hessel contributed to this report. Reach Belvedere, Strawberry and public-safety reporter Naomi Friedland at 415-944-4627.



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