Latania and Tripp were last seen in the 3100 block of Tate Road in Augusta, Georgia, in a 1990 GMC Sierra pickup truck with Georgia license plate number PYT6004.
She and Tripp left the family home at about 1:30 a.m. on April 17, police say.
When Latania’s mother, Tanya Tripp, was alerted by her other child that Latania and Tripp had left the house together, she immediately called him to find out what happened, relatives tell NewsOne.
He reportedly told Tanya he received a call from a friend in need of help with a broken down vehicle. Relatives say he then claimed to have asked Latania to accompany him to help read the GPS on a smart phone to locate the friend whose identity has not been released by police.
Sgt. Tim Owen, of the violent crimes division, tells NewsOne in an interview that Tripp’s story failed to check out. Police contacted the person believed to be the individual Tripp claimed he was going to help, and he did not corroborate Tripp’s story, Owen says.
“[The individual’s] car wasn’t broke[n] down and [t]he story he told [the teen’s] mother about the location is not true,” Owen tells NewsOne. “Since that point in time [Tripp has not been in] contact with [family] or friends.”
Since April 17, Tripp has been spotted in Atlanta, but tipsters reportedly did not see Latania, prompting law enforcement to issue the kidnapping warrant, police say. Further, Tripp’s GMC truck was discovered just blocks away from the family’s home with the keys inside the vehicle, according to police.
“It’s just one more strange thing in this whole case,” Owen says.
Latania’s uncle, Charles Carwell, 33, a warehouse inventory clerk, tells NewsOne he suspected foul play as soon as his niece went missing, but his sister is in denial about the kidnapping allegation against her husband.
“My niece is the victim,” Carwell tells NewsOne. “This girl has no resources and no money. [Latania] didn’t catch a taxi or an Uber or drive herself off. It’s not in her character to run off. Even if [Tripp’s] weird story were true, he put her in jeopardy by bringing her out the house that early in the morning.”
Latania, who turned 16 just 90 minutes before she went missing, has not been active on her social media accounts. That has sparked concern among law enforcement officers.
“It’s unusual that she went missing just as she turned 16 and that she’s not talking about that with her friends,” said Owen.
Owen said there have been no previous allegations of impropriety against Tripp toward Latania and that he has no history of kidnapping.
Carwell says he’s disappointed that police did not act sooner to obtain the kidnapping warrant and that no Amber alert has been issued for his niece.
“What was the two week delay? I don’t see what’s different now,” Carwell laments. “My sister has this picture where she wants her family back and she doesn’t see it.”
Owen said that Latania’s case does not meet the criteria for a Levi’s Call, Georgia’s version of an Amber Alert, because they do not have the description of Tripp’s vehicle. A description of the vehicle would allow authorities to allow prospective tipsters to be on the lookout for the car.
Tanya Tripp did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NewsOne. But in an interview with WRDW 12, she says she does not believe her husband did anything wrong.
“Really,” Mrs. Tripp stated in disbelief. “He married to all this prettiness and he gon run away with our daughter? Come on now. That’s stupid!”
“I don’t believe that. I know in my heart it’s not that at all,” she tells the television station.
Carwell is holding out hope for the best.
“I feel in my heart and soul that she is alive,” he says of Latania.