The case of a missing 15-year-old Bonney Lake girl transitioned Monday from a search for her to a search for answers.
Lileana “Lily” Christopherson, missing for more than three weeks, was spotted Sunday by a passerby at a Puyallup bus stop. She was alone at the time.
Puyallup police picked her up and turned her over to Bonney Lake police.
On Sunday evening, the teen was reunited with her family. Her mother, Lena Winter, told KIRO-7 she was thrilled her daughter is home again.
“I finally got to hold my baby girl in my arms today," Winter said. "No words could express my gratitude to everyone that has helped me find my daughter.”
Christopherson's family requested privacy but released a statement through a friend.
"They are so grateful for keeping her name out there, keeping her face circulating. For continuing to push through and help finding her. They cannot express their gratitude enough," according to the statement. "It's going to be a long recovery process and all they ask is just to please give them time with their daughter and allow them to contact you when they are ready."
At a news conference Monday, Bonney Lake police spokesman Daron Wolschlege said the department was "very excited about Lily's safe recovery and return to her family."
Police declined to talk about specifics of what Christopherson went through and where she was after she disappeared May 9, citing the girl's age and the ongoing investigation.
Investigators said Monday she knew about the effort to find her and changed her appearance to remain hidden. Whether she did so of her own accord or under duress was not known.
Christopherson reportedly spent some of the time she was missing with Christopher Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sex offender who met up with the girl at the Federal Way Transit Center.
He was arrested May 27 in Lakewood and pleaded not guilty to first-degree kidnapping, promoting commercial sex abuse of a minor, providing drugs to a minor, possession of child pornography and two counts of third-degree child rape.
Maria Ann Counts, 29, pleaded not guilty to the same charges and is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Fitzpatrick is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.
A third person also was arrested in connection with the case, 34-year-old William Kent Pittman, who pleaded not guilty at arraignment Monday to third-degree child rape.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin set his bail at $500,000.
In asking the court for that bail, deputy prosecutor Greg Greer called the case "very serious."
Investigators got information at some point that the teenager had stayed at Pittman's house for several days, according to charging papers.
Pittman minimized his involvement in the case and reportedly tried to help investigators find Fitzpatrick and gave them a cell phone he said belonged to the girl. He is the person police said was beat up by a group of vigilantes who believed him to be a suspect in the teen's disappearance.
Greer told the court at least one other person also might be charged.
Christopherson was last seen at her family’s Bonney Lake home about 1 a.m. May 9. When her mother checked on her seven hours later, she was gone.
Almost immediately, the passwords to her social media accounts were changed.
An 18-year-old man who hung out with Christopherson that day told officers they met up with Fitzpatrick and Counts at the transit center, then went to an RV and did a synthetic hallucinogen together.
The man was then asked to leave, according to court documents.
Police determined Christopherson, Fitzpatrick and Counts went to a Tacoma home, but by the time officers searched the home, the three had been gone for a day or two, documents state.
Detectives then looked at a Tumwater hotel, where Counts was taken into custody.
Information and photos of Christopherson found on Counts' phone showed she and Fitzpatrick were prostituting the teen, records state.
Fitzpatrick's criminal history includes two convictions for failing to register as a sex offender, and a third warrant for the same charge was issued in 2016. He initially was convicted in 2003 of third-degree assault and felony harassment for repeatedly raping his then-wife.
When he was arrested at a Fife motel, he was having sex with a 16-year-old girl tied to the bedposts, charging documents show.
Volunteer search parties combed Pierce County for Christopherson and hung fliers up in an attempt to bring her home. A $10,000 reward was offered to anyone who had information that could bring her home safe.
Police said Monday they are not in charge of the reward, but expect it will be given to the passerby who spotted Christopherson in Puyallup.
Anyone with information about where Christopherson was the last few weeks is asked to call police.