Sarah-Jane Stavenow, 26, broke down when she learned just how big the campaign to find her was. Her family is expressing thanks to all those involved in spreading the message.
It’s a frightening story with a positive ending.
Sarah-Jane Stavenow is safely back in the arms of her grateful family. The Arnprior native and mother of a son was located Friday, Nov. 23, in Los Angeles after police, family, friends and countless online individuals contributed to efforts to find the missing woman.
The 26-year-old Stavenow was not held captive, said her family, but was assaulted and spent days wandering the streets of LA after being denied assistance from the first person she approached, a police officer.
The Arnprior District High School graduate left Ottawa airport on Friday, Nov. 16 and gave word that she had landed safely in LA. The family had been desperately trying to contact and locate her after she failed to contact them following that initial message and missed her flight back home Tuesday.
In the time she was missing there was no activity on her credit cards, her cell phone appeared to be turned off and her Facebook saw no activity.
Wednesday morning, Suzanne Andrews-Sylvestre told the Arnprior Chronicle-Guide that many of the details of the incident could not be discussed at this time but that her daughter is now safe and the family is beyond grateful.
Stavenow's fiancé Ryan Kearney, who grew up in South March and attended West Carleton Secondary School, and members of her family were all gathered at her mother and stepfather’s house, which had become a sort of headquarters in the campaign to find the missing woman.
At this point in the efforts, the family’s phone numbers had been posted on billboards and posters and the odd crank call was getting through, explained Andrews-Sylvestre.
After several of these calls in a row, a fateful text came through to Kearney’s cell.
“All the text said was ‘Ryan …’, because her battery kept dying,” said Andrews-Sylvestre.
Sarah was out front of the Los Angeles airport, terrified to go in, said her mother.
“We asked her ‘Are you hurt?’ And she said ‘Yeah, a little.’”
The feeling of being so far from her daughter in that time of need is indescribable, said Andrews-Sylvestre. But knowing her daughter was safe and coming home was incredible.
Next came the scramble to secure a plane ticket home for Sarah and in the end the family ended up with three tickets in their possession.
“We were ready to do whatever we needed to get her back on Canadian soil,” said her mother.
At the moment, Stavenow is staying with her mom and stepdad and will return home to Kearney and her son in the next while.
“We’re getting through it,” said Andrews-Sylvestre. “She’s a fighter and a survivor for sure.”
Healing will take time.
“Right now she’s resting. She’s very traumatized,” said Andrews-Sylvestre. “She’s going to heal physically, but, you know … baby steps.”
The whole ordeal has been awful for Stavenow, in particular, and also her family, and her mother is upset to think her daughter could have been helped earlier.
“There will be an investigation for sure,” she said.
“Sarah was able to make her way to a police officer who denied her help. What he told her to do was to go find her embassy.”
That (police office) is the first person you teach your children to go to for help, said Andrews-Sylvestre in disbelief.
Her daughter was not held captive but was assaulted and found herself alone and terrified.
Whether there was one or more individual involved in Sarah Jane’s assault is not yet known, said Andrews-Sylvestre.
“We don’t even know everything yet; we’re letting her tell us as she’s ready.”
Sarah was left for four days wandering the streets trying to find her way to the airport. She was afraid to ask for help after her first experience with the police officer.
She did end up finding an old lady who helped her get a cab and put her in the right direction
In the days she wandered, every time Sarah would charge her phone, the wealth of messages was quickly killing the battery.
The ordeal is unimaginable, said Andrews-Sylvestre.
“You can’t look at this like it’s the Town of Arnprior,” she said. “If you don’t know where you are and you’re scared, trying to find your way somewhere would be frightening.”
The family is for the most part grateful for the help they’ve received.
“The Ottawa Police have been fantastic,” said Andrews-Sylvestre. “They couldn’t have been more helpful. On the LA side, not so much.”
Does Sarah understand the scope of the campaign to find her?
“We’ve explained to her how big it was and she just broke down,” said Andrews-Sylvestre.
“I can’t even express how grateful we are to everybody,” she said.
Police, media, family, friends and all those who helped online and otherwise are to be commended.
When she made the first Facebook post Nov. 20 reaching out about Sarah’s disappearance, she knew word would spread but admits she was a little surprised at just how many people got involved in getting the message out.
“I said to my husband the night before ‘I will stop at nothing to find her,’” she said.
By Friday morning, more than 9,000 people belonged to the Facebook group Please Help Find Sarah Jane Stavenow.
“The Town of Arnprior is just amazing. Fantastic people,” she said.
Andrews-Sylvestre was a cheerleader at Arnprior District High School and as everyone began getting involved and then the wonderful news that her daughter had been found came, there was one simple cheer that kept coming back to her.
“When you’re up, you’re up. When you’re down, you’re down. But when you’re up against Arnprior you’re upside down.”
For now, Stavenow and Kearney’s Dec. 12 wedding has been put on the backburner. The ordeal has been difficult for Sarah’s fiancé, as well.
“He’s been traumatized, too,” said his future mother-in-law.
And while she is very grateful for the public support, she hopes individuals refrain from spreading rumours or making up their own stories.
The investigation will run its course and Sarah has already seen some damaging comments online that have led her to feel she’s being kicked when she’s already down.