A day after police launched an extensive search for a missing woman and her family tearfully begged for her return, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the woman appears to have willingly left town.
Cindy Lea Sambueso is believed to be somewhere in California, Dyer said at a Friday news conference.
"We believe she is safe," he said. "We believe she is a willing missing person."
Officers from three law enforcement agencies in the area where Sambueso traveled to are trying to contact her and have put up fliers, Dyer said.
Dyer did not name the city in which Sambueso had been seen. The Police Department has a policy against disclosing the whereabouts of voluntary missing persons – to family or the public – because the missing persons may have fled for safety.
"That's not the case in this instance, but that's the reason for this policy," he said.
Sambueso's family said they were relieved. Her ex-husband, Robert Sambueso, and daughter, Kat, said it felt like the world had been taken off their shoulders.
They had no idea why she left, they said, and implored her to return.
"You have a home and a daughter, and we love you," Robert Sambueso said. While he and Cindy divorced 12 years ago, they had a good relationship and she had moved back into his home last year, he has said.
The family had printed hundreds of fliers with the missing woman's photo and information about her red 2000 Honda.
Sambueso, a massage therapist, runs Body Rejuvenation & Healthy Touch for Animals in north Fresno.
A search had been planned for today but has been called off, Robert Sambueso said.
"Please come home," Kat said, in a plea to her mother. She said she would not completely rest until family or law enforcement speaks with her mother.
Dyer had assigned six detectives and a sergeant to her case.
Sambueso will remain in the department's missing person's database until detective Josh Mendizabal has contact with her. Dyer gave out Mendizabal's phone number: (559) 621-2499. But Dyer said: "It's our belief Cindy Sambueso is a voluntary missing person and is not in duress."
Family last saw Sambueso Tuesday, when she dropped her daughter off at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Clovis to get her driver's permit.
Dyer said she was last seen in Fresno shopping inside a store at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday.
She appeared to be alone and drove out of the store's parking lot at 10:59 a.m. by herself. Records show she bought gas – but police were unable to pinpoint the station, he said.
Later Tuesday, she checked into a hotel in a city Dyer did not identify and stayed two nights. She checked into a second hotel Thursday, staying one night.
Dyer said she checked out of that hotel Friday morning.
Clerks at both hotels were able to identify Sambueso from photos, Dyer said.
"One saw Cindy at breakfast and assisted her at breakfast," he said. "She did not appear to be under any type of distress."
Sambueso appeared to be by herself at the hotels, he said.
Dyer said Friday he believed Sambueso remained in the same area. "But she may see those fliers and go somewhere else."
Fresno police investigate 6,000 missing-person cases a year; 85% are juveniles and 15% are adults who go missing for numerous reasons, he said. Dyer said Sambueso's disappearance raised red flags because she left her cell phone at her business in Fresno, missed a noon appointment, and had no history of mental illness.