SAN DIEGO — A 15-year-old boy who allegedly was lured away from his family in 1999 returned to San Diego on Thursday after he was stopped at Disneyworld for trespassing.
Michael Pringle embraced his 17-year-old brother, his mother and friends as he arrived at the airport amid of crowd of reporters and photographers who had been alerted by the FBI.
Michael was picked up by sheriff’s deputies last week after he was stopped for trespassing at the Orlando, Fla., theme park, FBI agent Darrell Foxworth said.
An alert social worker recognized Michael from a photo on the Web site of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, he said.
Michael disappeared from Chula Vista in May 1999, where he had been living in a home for troubled youth. At the time, the family had been experiencing hardship, with his mother suffering from clinical depression and his father out of work, according to his brother, Robert.
An older man, whom authorities and the family declined to identify, offered Michael trips and gifts, his mother, Mercedes Pringle, said.
“He didn’t seem like a bad guy,” she said. “He seemed to be a nice character. We didn’t think anything about it. But by the time we realized it, it was too late. They were gone.”
A week after disappearing, Michael phoned his brother to report he was fine, but wouldn’t say where he was. It was the last time they spoke.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Michael declined to say where he had been or what he had been through.
“I don’t feel like getting into that right now,” he said, betraying little emotion.
Though investigators say he was lured away, Michael disputed that. He said was not held against his will.
“I thought of trying to come back. I just didn’t,” he said. “I’m back now.”
Mrs. Pringle, a medical assistant, described the last few years as “a nightmare.”
“It breaks my heart. I blame myself,” she said. “It’s my fault because I should have caught some things ... like one time this guy gave my son a pager and a cellular phone. Now what in the world are you going to do with a cellular phone on a 12-year-old kid?”
Foxworth said the case is under investigation, but no arrests have been made.
“This child has been missing since he was 12 years old. There’s a lot of questions as far as what’s happened, where he’s been for the two and a half years, what his experiences have been, what he’s been subjected to.”
Michael said he was happy to be home and looking forward to restarting the relationship with his family. He also wants to resume school, though after more than two years away from classes he couldn’t say what grade he’d be in.
Asked what he planned to do next, Michael bowed his head in thought. His brother jokingly interjected: “He’s going to Disneyland.”
Giving his brother a stoney look, Michael remained silent.