RIVERTON, Utah — The parents of two missing Riverton teens say the duo has been found.
"The kids have been found!!!" the mother of Ellie Droge, one of the two missing children, said in a message to FOX 13.
Droge and Ocean Pulley, both 13, were last seen leaving Oquirrh Hills Middle School around 9 a.m. Monday. A household security camera later caught the two walking through the neighborhood.
Riverton Police later confirmed that the pair was found around 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
It's not known where the teens were located and whether they had reached out to their parents.
The Droge and Pulley families released a joint statement Sunday night saying they are “elated and relieved at the safe return” of the two middle schoolers.
“We would like to thank the Riverton police department and those detectives and officers who tirelessly worked to locate our kids. We would also like to thank all of the community members who hung flyers and posters not only throughout Riverton but stretching across the state. We want to thank everyone who spread news on social media, kept an eye out, sent in tips, said prayers, showed love, gave comfort, offered support, demonstrated kindness, visited us, sat with us, cried with us, and hoped with us. Words of thanks will never fully express the gratitude we have for each and every person who has helped in their own ways,” wrote the parents.
Now, the community is eager to know where they were for almost an entire week.
“Thank goodness. They’ve been found. They’re healthy. They’re unharmed. So that alleviates a tremendous amount of stress,” said Chris Burbank. “But then you have to put together — where have they been?”
Burbank spent 25 years in law enforcement with nine of them as Salt Lake City Police chief.
“There’s a lot of people out there. A lot of adults that want to take advantage of them and are willing to do that,” he said.
The teens are safe but did visit the hospital Sunday afternoon to be checked out, just in case.
“It’s cold out there. Let’s just be honest, if you are not somebody who has been homeless before and fend for yourself on the street, for a 13-year-old kid, that’s not going to happen,” said Chris Bertram.
Bertram is a retired Unified Police Department deputy chief, a private investigator and an assistant professor in criminal justice. He said “Romeo and Juliet” runaway cases like this are common, but as days went by with no sign of Ellie or Ocean, he was concerned.
“In the runaway cases I’ve done, if you get to about 48 or 72 hours and you have no contact, there is no proof of life on social media or they’re not hitting up their friends or things like that, start to worry,” he said.
In their statement, the families said they do not want to share the details of where the two teens were until “after the police have been able to do their investigations, as well as protect the privacy of the kids as they are no doubt going to have some challenges re-adapting.”
They also wrote: “These students, along with all teenagers today are facing unique challenges and pressures with social media, fitting in, anxiety, depression and more. As adults who interact with these teens, we need to try to be aware, loving, understanding, become more educated, watch for warning signs, and find opportunities to help these teens to learn to cope, adapt, and manage some of these struggles. We hope that any other teens struggling with these types of challenges will reach out for help, accept help, and utilize resources that are available. We hope that all people can show more kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and love for those around us, not knowing who may be in crisis, and who may just benefit from some extra kindness.”
Burbank agrees, saying education and conversation is the best way to go.
“I think we make the mistake — and this is a common one — we look at the circumstances, we say, ‘We want to prevent.’ Well, prevention is usually done best through education,” he said.
Riverton Police tell FOX 13 News they will provide more information on Monday. The had previously said the teens wanted to continue in a relationship their parents were against.
The Droge and Pulley parents are asking the community to look out for the signs and cherish time with your loved ones.
“We encourage everyone to spend the day with their families, hold your kids tight, tell them you love them, and love and cherish every moment with them. Please keep both families, and especially Ocean and Ellie in your thoughts and prayers and please continue to offer love and support in a way that will help everyone to heal and re-adjust.”