Family's dedication brings teen home
One family's tenacity is what ensured their 16-year-old daughter and sister came home safely on Saturday. Glen Ellen resident Kasandra Poshepny, who was reported missing July 9, was found safe at a makeshift campsite near Pine Creek Reservoir in Santa Rosa.
"It's over, I'm so glad it's over," said her sister Jess Poshepny, 26, who lead an ambitious media and social media campaign to spread the word about Kasandra. The sleepless nights and long days of chasing down leads paid off with an emotional reunion on Saturday, which may not have occurred without this family's fierce dedication.
The story began July 8, when the petite brunette teen left for summer school at Sonoma Valley High School. By some accounts, she was upset that day, but the exact truth is blurred somewhere between conflicting reports from friends and family. What is known is that she left the Valley with her boyfriend Robbie Huffman, 19, in a late 1980s Nissan pick-up truck, headed for the Healdsburg home of Steve and Nicole Knox, Huffman's cousins. According to the Knoxes, shortly after arriving, Kasandra got upset and took off on foot, disappearing into the rural property, leaving her belongings behind.
"Nicole Knox kept reiterating that Robbie had her purse," said Jess Poshepny.
Jess Poshepny said she was told by the Knoxes that Huffman became upset when his cousins called the Sheriff's Office to report the teen as missing. Huffman has a previous arrest record for selling marijuana. While the Knoxes told Jess Poshepny they did in fact call law enforcement, the Sheriff's Office told her they never received the call. Angry, Huffman took off in his truck, returning later in the evening with Kasandra. Both appeared to have calmed down.
The Knoxes also were said to have called Kasandra's mother, Noreen Hughes, of Rohnert Park, and asked her if she wanted to come get her daughter. Hughes reportedly decided to come up the next day, when the Knoxes were planning a birthday party for their child.
The next morning, on July 9, Nicole Knox lent Kasandra a shirt while the teen washed her clothes. Nicole and Steve Knox went into town for party supplies around 10 a.m., and when they returned, Kasandra was gone, along with Huffman and his truck. When Tony Poshepny's daughter didn't return home as expected that night, he went to the Sheriff's Office and reported the teen as missing.
Law enforcement was quick to classify Kasandra as "voluntarily missing," a runaway. Her sister Jess wouldn't rest, quickly setting up tip lines, talking to friends of the couple, wandering into the rarely seen corners of Sonoma County's homes encampments – every unconfirmed sighting was followed. For weeks the search went deeper into the mysterious life of Huffman, a native of Missouri who police call a "drifter," who captured Kasandra's heart in the year they dated, although her friends and family knew almost nothing about him, Jess Poshepny said.
This focus on Huffman ultimately played a critical role in bringing Kasandra home, as key witnesses reported seeing him, not her.
On Friday, July 22, Jess Poshepny was getting dinner ready when the phone rang. The anonymous caller on the line said she knew where Huffman was staying, at a camp he constructed south of the Sutter Medical Center complex on Chanate Road. Jess Poshepny had received dozen of calls like this, and after two weeks of chasing these types of tips to no avail, she had become somewhat jaded.
"But this girl just kept calling back," she said.
Finally, the woman called and said she was standing in Beverly Way in Santa Rosa next to Huffman's truck. "She said, 'Are you guys coming?'" Jess Poshepny said. They were on their way.
Jess Poshepny immediately called her aunt, who lived closer to the location, who raced out into the night to the rural Santa Rosa street. Sure enough, the primer grey pick-up truck the family had searched high and low for was sitting there – and inside, on the floor of the passenger seat, was what appeared to be Kasandra's purse. There was no sign of the couple, but the tipster said they set up camp deep in the bushes off the road. The family immediately called the police, who came out to the site but said they couldn't search the deep brush at night, not knowing who or what might be out there, Jess Poshepny said.
So the family spent the night camped out in a car next to the truck, unwilling to risk letting Kasandra slip through their fingers again. The next morning, police returned and opened the truck. The purse inside was confirmed to be Kasandra's, complete with her identification card, banking information and cellphone. Deputies began interviewing neighbors of the area, several of whom said they had seen Huffman, that he told them he was a student at the junior college who could not afford an apartment. No one could confirm seeing Kasandra, Jess Poshepny said. "They said they saw him with a girl, but it definitely wasn't Kasandra," she said.
The truck was strewn with clothing and trash; the back cab held bags of potting soil, which at first seemed like an ominous sign to Jess Poshepny. "My first thought was that he killed her and buried her," she told the Index-Tribune after the truck had been found but before Kasandra was recovered.
Law enforcement towed the truck to be tested for evidence, and made plans to send up Sonoma County Sheriff's Department helicopter Henry One to conduct an aerial search of the reservoir. While waiting for the helicopter, a man approached law enforcement and said he knew where Huffman's camp was. Deep in the brush, law enforcement discovered the teen and Huffman.
Jess Poshepny said Huffman was arrested on charges f felony child endangerment for the conditions the couple were living in and harboring a juvenile. Exactly why the teen took off remains a mystery.
But on Saturday, the whys didn't matter for Kasandra's family, who raced to greet her.
"She's OK, I have my baby sister with me!" Jess Poshepny posted on her Facebook page last night.