A California woman who says she called 911 to report spotting Sherri Papini on a rural California roadside before police rescued the missing California mom early Thanksgiving morning says Papini “was looking panicked and frightened.”
“I saw this woman with long blonde hair in the right shoulder of the freeway and she was waving a piece of fabric that looked like a shirt, waving it up and down trying to flag someone down,” the woman, Alison Sutton, tells PEOPLE. “It was obvious: She needed help.”
Sutton and her 14-year-old daughter had already been on the road for eight hours en route to a Thanksgiving celebration. They were traveling north between 70 and 80 miles per hour when they passed Papini standing on the shoulder of Interstate 5 in rural Yolo County.
“I was going so fast, it was like she came out of nowhere. It startled me,” says Sutton. “She was really close to the side of the road. I said to my daughter, ‘I could have hit her,’ ” if she had swerved.
Sutton adds: “I remember thinking she must be cold, because whatever she was wearing didn’t look like it was warm enough for the conditions outside. It was probably in the mid-30’s.”
Unsure of where she was, Sutton drove a few miles and then pulled over to call 911.
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Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko has said that Papini, 34, was bound with restraints when she was found on the roadside, about 150 miles from her about 150 miles from her Redding home.
Now police are searching for two Hispanic women in an SUV, who authorities say are armed and dangerous, after Papini implicated them police say.
Police are also investigating Papini’s past, including her previous marriage and divorce, along with any online activity. Police have said nothing in the investigation has contradicted Papini’s version of events.
“We currently have no reason to disbelieve Sherri Papini’s story,” Bosenko said, according to ABC News. “She was assaulted and had injuries which she was treated for.”
Sutton, meanwhile, is grateful she played a small part in Papini’s recovery.
“I feel blessed to witness this small miracle,” she says.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Papini’s husband Keith Papini said that when he reunited with Papini, her long, blonde hair had been chopped off. He added that Papini had been thrown from a vehicle with a chain around her waist – which was also attached to her wrists – and a bag over her head.
Sutton tells PEOPLE, “I definitely remembered blonde hair…. As far as the length of it, my brain could have filled in the detail by looking at photos her. It was fast — I just caught a glimpse of her as I drove by — but I have this memory of a panicked look on her face. And now reading what her husband said I feel horrible. I didn’t see the chains, I just saw somebody who really needed help.”