A 12-year-old girl from China who authorities believed to be in “extreme danger” after she was taken from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Virginia was found safe and in the custody of her parents in New York on Friday.
Jinjing Ma — who was reported missing after she got separated from a tour group from China on Thursday morning — was located with her parents in the New York borough of Queens on Friday afternoon, authorities said.
Jinjing had been part of a tour group of students from China visiting schools and sightseeing in the US since July 26, authorities said.
The group had arrived at the Regan airport from New York City and was expected to travel to the West Coast before heading back to China.
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) Police Chief David Huchler said, "We are grateful that Jinjing is safe and with family. Our goal was to locate her to ensure she was safe and unharmed, and we accomplished that goal."
Citing an ongoing FBI investigation into the incident, an FBI spokesperson refused to clarify if Jinjing had, in fact, been abducted from the airport as authorities first suspected. The spokesperson did not provide further details except to say the girl was found safe with her parents.
State and federal authorities began searching for Jinjing after they suspected she had been abducted by a middle-aged Asian woman in a black dress who met the child at the airport after she was separated from the tour group while they were checking in.
As the group was preparing to check in after being given their passports, Jinjing said she needed to use the restroom and left the group, police said.
She did not use the restroom but met with the Asian woman who “assisted” the child in changing her clothes, police said.
They then left the airport through the arrivals terminal.
While the tour group was in the security line, one of the students realized Jinjing was missing and notified the chaperone.
Jinjing was last seen at around 8:15 a.m. Thursday wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a black jacket.
Police said the child and the woman left the airport in a white Infiniti QX70 with unknown New York tags that was driven by a man.
Authorities said they were trying to identify the "two suspects" — an Asian man and the Asian woman — who were seen on surveillance cameras arriving at the airport together, before the woman met Jinjing inside.
Huchler said Thursday that the child appeared to have left the airport and entered the car “without any force.”
An Amber Alert was issued several hours after the girl was seen leaving the airport with the two suspects.
Authorities on Friday said that Jinjing had been approached by a couple at the World Trade Center while the tour group was sightseeing in New York City and that the couple appears to be “connected to the incident” at the airport.
Huchler said that there appeared to be “some familiarity” between Jinjing and the couple in New York, but could not confirm if she knew them or if their exchange was “cordial.”
Authorities did not provide information on when the New York meeting took place and were trying to determine if the couple in New York were the same individuals as the two suspects from the airport.
“Right now we believe the contact up in New York is connected with the contact here in DCA, but I can’t go to the extent to say it is the same person(s),” Huchler said during a press conference on Friday morning.
A witness told police that he may have seen the same Asian woman in New York City meet up with Jinjing and hand her food.
Earlier on Friday, Huchler said that authorities were looking into the theory about whether Jinjing knew the suspects who took her from the airport. But he had cautioned that she was still considered a “critical missing juvenile” in a “very dangerous situation.”
Huchler said they had been unable to reach out to Jinjing’s grandfather in China and were trying to determine if she had any relatives in the US.
Members of her tour group were also interviewed in San Francisco.
The MWAA police worked with the FBI’s Office of Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as Virginia State Police to track leads across the country. They were also in contact with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.