Pearl Pinson
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Pearl Pinson's blood -- and her cellphone -- were found at the site of her disappearance

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March 12, 2019 03:08 PM

The morning of May 25, 2016, started out pretty typically for Pearl Pinson of Vallejo, California.

After waking up a bit later than usual, the 15-year-old hustled out the door for her walk to school. Excited to debut the freshly dyed green streaks she’d recently added to her blond hair, Pearl stopped to snap a selfie outside her house.

Then, shortly before 7 a.m, a witness noticed Pearl engaged in what appeared to be an argument with a then-unidentified man, who pulled out a gun as the onlooker approached. “Several witnesses saw her being drug across the overpass. The man had a gun. She’s yelling, ‘Help me,’” Pearl’s father, 53-year-old James Pinson, tells PEOPLE.

“About 30 minutes after she left, somebody came running up, telling me there’s a girl with green hair who got shot,” Pinson continues.

Pinson tells PEOPLE that he found a “puddle of blood,” as well as Pearl’s cellphone, at that same location near the overpass a short time later — but there was no sign of Pearl, or her abductor.

The following day, police focused on a suspect named Fernando Castro, whom Pinson says lived less than a mile from the family. But Castro was killed in a police shoot-out when he attempted to flee authorities in a highway chase.

Pearl hasn’t been spotted since the day of her abduction.

“No one can figure out why he took her; if he was stalking her or if she was a person of opportunity,” Pinson says. Investigators have examined Castro’s and Pearl’s cellphones and social media accounts, but so far they’ve found no link between the two.

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To this day, Pearl’s family — including James, his wife Joyce, 53, and Pearl’s sister Rosey, 20 — is desperate for leads about what became of the teen. At least twice a month, they go out to post flyers around various nearby towns in the hopes that someone may have spotted her.

Their worst fear: that the most significant clues to Pearl’s fate may have died along with Castro on May 26, 2016. Though various tips have come in — and they are diligently checked by local detectives — no solid leads have materialized.

“Unless you are a family member who has experienced something like this, you can’t put it into words. It’s like we’re walking zombies,” Pinson says.

The family is making every effort not to assume the worst. Still, “it’s like a piece of your heart’s missing,” says Pinson.

If you have any information about the whereabouts of Pearl Pinson, please contact the Solano County Sheriff’s Office at 707-784-1963, or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

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