Shasta County Sheriff's Office/FacebookAs one might expect from someone who was kidnapped, beaten, and apparently left to die on the side of the road, California mom Sherri Papini has been keeping an extremely low profile since being released by her captors on Thanksgiving morning. But now brand-new photos of Papini -- the first taken since her ordeal -- have surfaced, and they're sure to raise even more questions about the already very mysterious case.
The world was shocked when 34-year-old mother-of-two Papini disappeared while jogging in northern California in early November, leaving behind only a pair of ear buds, her cellphone, and a few strands of her long blond hair. But the world was even more shocked when she turned up three weeks later on the side of a highway 150 miles to the south, badly beaten, starved, and branded, reportedly thrown out of a car by assailants.
Why was she released -- and, more important, why was she kidnapped in the first place? No arrests have been made, and very few details have been released to the public: We know only that she was apparently branded with some kind of "message," that she was severely bruised and had lost 13 pounds (she was already quite thin), and that her long hair was apparently chopped off. According to Papini, her kidnappers (one of whom was described by police as having "curly hair, thin eyebrows and pierced ears" and the other with "thick eyebrows" and "straight salt-and-pepper hair") pushed her out of an SUV with a bag over her head and a chain around her waist; a motorist found her and called 911. But we still have no idea what the motivation for her kidnapping might have been, or how she's been coping.
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Unfortunately, the new photos -- taken exclusively by the New York Post -- don't necessarily answer any of these questions. Taken outside her home in Mountain Gate, California, on Saturday, they show Papini in a white jacket, her hair hidden away under a baseball cap and hood, walking into her garage with her husband and children, filling a small red dish with water, and leaving it on the ground before going back inside.
So these photos tell us that Papini is with her family, and functioning, but they don't really tell us anything else. Was she in fact a sex trafficking victim, as many have theorized? Or was her abduction in response to a "racially charged" blog post written by someone who claimed to be Sherri (using her maiden name), as others have speculated? Why hasn't Papini spoken out about her ordeal? (Other than the very likely possibility that she's still too traumatized at this point, of course.)
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This story is so disturbing for so many reasons, not the least of which is its exasperatingly baffling nature. At this point, to outside observers, nothing seems to be adding up -- and that's scary, because that makes it seem like something that could happen to any of us. Of course, the most important thing is that Papini and her family are okay, and that she's healing and moving past the horrible experience. But without knowing more, it will be difficult for many women (especially those who live in the same area as Papini) to truly feel safe.