Family: 'Strong possibility' missing woman meant to leave

CNN / Garden Ridge Police Dept.
Friday, January 31, 2014 - 10:04am

Leanne Hecht Bearden may not be missing after all -- in fact, she might be missing by her own accord.

That's what her family said Thursday, after days of pushing for help in finding the 33-year-old last seen leaving her in-law's house in Garden Ridge, Texas, just northeast of San Antonio.

But the bottom line is that still is still missing, nearly two weeks after she went for a walk.

Pointing to investigative work done by the Garden Ridge police, Comal County Sheriff's Office and Texas Rangers, the family said they now believe Bearden may have gone missing intentionally.

"There is evidence that Leanne may have voluntarily left the area, and we understand this is a strong possibility," the family said in a statement posted Thursday on a Facebook page devoted to finding the young woman.

If nothing else, Bearden is a veteran traveler. In the last couple of years, she traveled the world with her husband, Josh Bearden, in an epic 22-month trek that she extensively documented in a blog. They climbed Mount Kilamanjaro, swam in the Dead Sea, attended an Indian wedding and much, much more.

Then, in December, the couple returned to the United States.

That included a brief stop in Georgia, then onto to Texas to visit Josh's family. From there, the two were working on finding jobs in Denver, where the couple was married and had settled.

Her brother, Michael Hecht, said upon returning to the United States, the couple had spent a short time in Georgia, then went to Texas for a few weeks to visit Josh's family. He said they were working to find jobs in Denver, where the couple was married and had settled.

Coming back to her native country wasn't necessarily easy, her family suggested.

"The pressure of transitioning from her two-year trip back into what we consider 'normal' life seems to have left her very anxious and stressed," they said.

On January 17, Bearden told her family she'd be back in about an hour after setting out on a walk from her in-laws' residence where she and husband were staying.

Josh Bearden told CNN affiliate KENS-TV, "She left on her own free will. That is what she did. That is absolutely true, but what happened after she left the house on her own free will I don't know."

He and other relatives and friends worked intently to spread the word after she didn't return, as the search for her expanded.

Her brother told CNN two helicopters searched for nearly three hours six days after she was last seen, and that followed ground searches the previous two days.

"It's baffling right now about what happened. Maybe she fell and hurt herself. You start thinking about things. I don't think she had any enemies. She is loved very much," Hecht said then.

The biggest such search -- covering 23 square miles, by air and land -- was last Saturday.

The Garden Ridge police noted their serious concern about Bearden last week, while adding "there is no indication at this time that (her disappearance) is criminal in nature."

They and other authorities talked to relatives and friends, combed through e-mails and text messages, checked out phone records and contacts -- all in addition to looking for physical signs of her.

But none of these efforts have revealed any "evidence ... of her presence," according to her family.

"If Leanne has indeed fled the area, she is extremely vulnerable," they said. "She left with only a few assets and is traveling very light."

The family added that while Bearden is athletic, "she is small in stature."

"Her mental and physical status is uncertain," the said. "We fear for her greatly."

The Facebook page devoted to finding her continued pleading Thursday night -- shortly after the family's statement came out -- for the public's help, asking people to print and post fliers with her picture and share her story through social media.

"Continue to send your positive thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Leanne who are really in need of them now," the post said.

CNN's Ana Cabrera and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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