On the cloudy morning of Wednesday, May 25, 2016, fifteen-year-old, Pearl Pinson, pulled on her purple-and-green Joker backpack and began the daily morning trek to the school bus stop.
A ninth grader with a big personality, Pearl liked drawing and skateboarding. She is described by friends as “always the one cracking the jokes.” She wanted to become a firefighter or a veterinarian one day.
Pearl’s school route encompassed taking a covered pedestrian overpass along I-780. It was a routine trip which Pearl had made uneventfully many times over the school year. In fact, she only had a month or so of classes left at Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, California before summer break.
However, before the school bus arrived that particular morning, Pearl’s walk would somehow became an inexplicable and public fight for her life. A confusing and violent altercation would ultimately become the last confirmed sighting of Pearl Pinson.
At around 7:00 AM, Vallejo authorities began receiving disturbing 911 calls from people on and around the pedestrian overpass. Witnesses described an intense, and baffling, dispute between an armed male abductor and a young woman. The young woman wore a purple-and-green Joker backpack and was described as having Pearl’s distinctive green hair.
Another caller frantically relayed that “a man was dragging a girl and trying to rape her.” According to news reports, when one of the witnesses tried to intervene, he quickly “found a gun pointed at him” by Pearl’s abductor.
As confused pedestrians scrambled to run for cover from the armed man, a gunshot cut through the quiet morning. Even Pearl’s younger brother, who was separately en route to the bus stop, heard a “scream followed by a gunshot,” but “didn’t know it was his sister’s plea for help.”
But now, over a year later, it remains unclear whether the man fired a warning shot or shot Pearl directly.
Once police arrived, only “a small pool of blood” and Pearl’s cell phone (which ultimately “helped detectives identify her”) were found on the overpass. Both Pearl and the armed man had vanished in the commotion which ensued after the gunshot.
The police, based on witness reports, initially believed “that the suspect fled on foot.” However, Pearl’s older sister, Rose Pinson, has asserted that an “unidentified witness saw [Pearl’s book bag] being thrown into [the abductor’s] trunk along with her.”
This initial conflation of important details led to a serious delay in the activation of an Amber Alert for Pearl. The alert system was ultimately not utilized until afternoon the next day on Thursday, May 26, 2016. Consequently, Pearl and her assailant are wholly unaccounted for during the remainder of May 25th and the early morning hours of May 26th.
Despite these initial issues, authorities would locate Pearl’s abductor, later identified as nineteen-year-old local, Fernando Castro, the very next day on Thursday, May 26, 2016. But, he did not have Pearl with him.
Locating Fernando Castro produced no definite resolution in Pearl’s disappearance, as Fernando would be shot to death in an intense trailer park shootout with police, only hours later, that same afternoon.
Fernando Castro took his motivation behind the violent abduction with him to the grave, along with any concrete information regarding Pearl’s whereabouts. In addition, details of Fernando Castro’s potential motives, and life, are ridiculously sparse.
Pearl Pinson’s fate remains unknown. Many believe that Pearl was potentially sold into sex trafficking and may still be alive. However, there have been no confirmed sightings of the teenager or any additional clues since that day.
Tragically, Pearl’s continued disappearance has been thoroughly overshadowed by her bold, and terrifying, public abduction. Though many news outlets obsessively covered the immediate events, media attention has waned after salient new details and easy explanations failed to materialize.
But the difficult questions remain.
What did Fernando Castro do to Pearl Pinson? And, why? What, if anything, precipitated this violent attack? Were Fernando’s motivations sexual, mentally unstable, or more personal and retributive in nature? Why have authorities not confirmed these details? How was this brazen, teenaged kidnapper, with an unwilling captive, so incredibly skilled at going unnoticed by any other people for 17+ hours? And, able to completely conceal his motives? And, able to efficiently hide any and all traces of his victim?
Perhaps, most egregiously, how does a lively and spirited young woman just vanish off the face of the planet in this modern day and age? How can authorities, media, and the public-at-large accept anything short of a legitimate resolution in this case? What factors contribute to this mystery remaining unsolved?
Where is Pearl Pinson? And, is she still alive?
Lone Driver in A Gold Saturn
The next morning after Pearl’s abduction, on Thursday, May 26, 2016, Pearl’s abductor, Fernando Castro, was filmed driving in “Marin County, about 25 miles from where Pearl was taken and 300 miles away from where he was shot and killed hours later.” He appeared to be travelling alone in a “gold Saturn sedan.”
Vallejo, California– the area where Pearl was violently attacked by Fernando, has a significantly high crime rate and is in Solano County. Statistically, Vallejo “has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes.” Furthermore, there is a “one in 20” chance of one becoming “a victim of either violent or property crime.”
Authorities have released the following locations, all of which Fernando’s car was filmed at by traffic cameras during different times, on the morning of Thursday, May 26:
- 9:13 AM : Fernando’s car is seen westbound I-580 Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
- 9:20 AM : Fernando’s car is seen near Sir Frances Drake Blvd in Marin County.
- 9:35 AM : Fernando’s car is seen southbound 101 Golden Gate Bridge.
It is interesting to note that, though Google Maps estimates this trip to take over an hour, Fernando was caught on camera at all of the locations within 22 minutes.
Authorities enacted an Amber Alarm for Pearl Pinson which “[described] Castro and his car” at around 2:30 PM.
As authorities began to pursue him, Fernando led the California Highway Patrol on a high-speed chase through the city of Solvang in Santa Barbara County, California.
The car chase reportedly culminated in Fernando crashing his vehicle “in front of a mobile home park and [trying] to steal another vehicle.” By 4:15 PM, Fernando Castro was shot and killed by returned fire in a shootout with police officers.
Solano County Sheriff, Thomas Ferrara, relayed the following to media outlets about the incident:
“[The suspect] drove a little ways, got out, shot at deputies. They returned fire. The suspect is dead. And at this point we believe that the suspect is probably Fernando Castro.”
There were no sightings of Pearl Pinson that morning or any other time after her abduction. However, authorities did find Pearl’s blood “in Fernando Castro’s trunk.”
Deputy Christine Castillo, of the Solano County Sheriff’s Department, further elaborated:
“The trace of blood we found in the trunk of the car is consistent with whatever injury she had when she was abducted, but it wasn’t a significant enough amount of blood to indicate that it wasn’t survivable.
So we still very much hold onto hope that we are going to bring Pearl home. That she’s being held somewhere against her will, or she’s being passed from person to person, but that she is alive.”
The relationship, if any, between Pearl Pinson and Fernando Castro is difficult to ascertain. The official stance is that the two were “acquaintances from the neighborhood.”
Initially, it appeared that police were asserting “Castro and Pinson knew each other but that she was taken against her will.”
However, Pinson’s family members emphatically and categorically deny that the two ever knew each other well, if at all.
Apparently, Pearl and Fernando lived only “three blocks away” from one another. But more specifically, Pearl’s older sister, Rose Pinson, has firmly declared that, though Fernando and Pearl lived in the same neighborhood, “they never even talked to each other.” She also said that Fernando could frequently be “seen roaming around [their] neighborhood.”
In one Facebook comment, Rose has shared that “investigators went through Pearl’s and Fernando’s phones and they had NO type of contact” [sic]. Interestingly, Rose also mentioned that Fernando “had been [stalking]” Pearl.
Surprisingly, Fernando Castro appears to have supporters who seem all too happy to provide their own crass opinions on the crime. Though this should be taken with a big grain of salt, for those internet commentators who claim to know him, there seems to exist a resounding variation of the following two reactions:
According to some Facebook comments, it appears that rumors of high school drama and juvenile vendettas are tirelessly circling the case. However, even the commentator eventually acknowledges that their insight is based on a rumor.
Rose Pinson (who the directly-above comment was directed to) offers the same succinct reply that she has consistently maintained throughout the case- she did not know Fernando and neither did Pearl. Nevertheless, the relationship between Fernando and Pearl, or the lack thereof, has become a central component in many unsubstantiated rumors concerning the case.
Unknown Man, Unknown Intent
Verifiable information about Fernando Castro is unnervingly sparse. It is difficult to establish if the nineteen year old had a prior criminal record, or a job, or a family, his own vehicle, or his own residence.
There are reports that authorities “found several disturbing notes” during the search of Fernando’s home. Like many details of Fernando Castro’s life, which would seem logical for the authorities to have established and verified at this point in the investigation, the content of these notes has never been released.
The absence of a body has led authorities to question whether Pearl may still be alive. Deputy Castillo, who is also referenced above, has consistently made comments to reporters which suggest this narrative, such as:
“We believe Pearl could very well be being kept against her will.”
Could Pearl have been delivered to an unknown associate? Could she have been used as payment to another dangerous criminal in order to honor some kind of nefarious debt? Is she possibly being held as a captive in some ‘underground’ criminal faction?
Or, was Pearl simply the object of a mentally-unstable and obsessed man?
Perhaps, it all comes down to one question. When authorities were still struggling to understand the basic details of the altercation, did Fernando have the resources to hide Pearl’s body so adeptly that it has eluded detection all of this time?
Or, is it more likely that Pearl was handed-off to an unknown individual?
Authorities are particularly tight-lipped concerning concrete evidence of their theories and suppositions. However, police have been explicit regarding their belief that Pearl may have been taken to the neighboring area of Sonoma County, California which is to the north of Marin County (where Fernando was located on May 26th).
Sonoma County is the “32nd county in the United States in agricultural production” and is known for being a longtime “producer of hops, grapes, prunes, apples, and dairy and poultry products, largely due to the extent of available, fertile agricultural land.” It also boasts “more than 7.4 million tourists visit each year.”
Jenner, California is a “small coastal town” which consists of only “2.4 square miles… 0.3 square miles [being] water” in Sonoma County. According to the 2010 census, Jenner had a population of 136 people and a total of 158 housing units in the area, “33.8%” of which were rental properties.
Detectives are also hopeful that Pearl’s distinctive backpack, which disappeared with her, may also generate a lead one day. During the initial onset of the investigation, authorities reiterated there is a very real possibility that “someone will locate [the backpack] and contact investigators.”
Pearl’s family hopes for the best, but they have no answers to offer. As the verifiable family spokesperson, Rose Pinson has frequently conveyed her family’s desperation, heartbreak, and confusion, telling reporters:
“We don’t know where he took [Pearl], what he did with her or why he even took her. The question is why or where she’s at.”
Plagued by Possibilities
In the wake of Pearl Pinson’s abduction and disappearance, an incredible mystery has materialized- one that barely seems possible in modern society. Every unknown detail surrounding Pearl’s attack seems as outrageous as the next.
The investigation appears to have sputtered and stalled. The incredible, and unnerving, story has slowly dissipated into the background.
Plagued by possibilities, this particular mystery only begets more questions. Could the feisty and headstrong Pearl still be alive? Why did Fernando abduct her that morning? What was the relationship between these two seeming strangers, if any?
And, perhaps the most important key to solving this mystery, what exactly happened in the timeframe between Pearl’s violent abduction and Fernando’s death?
Additionally, how have the authorities been unable to determine or provide any further details? Certainly more information about Fernando’s life, habits, and potential motivations would potentially conjure important tips or sightings from local residents.
After over a year of searching, and with not one discernible theory being more likely than the next, it seems that a concrete resolution may not be forthcoming. More information from authorities, if they have it, may just be the last hope for garnering further tips and/or leads. However, it seems like authorities are not the only ones who have quickly abandoned talk of the unusual story.
It’s also remarkable how little attention the almost too ‘made-for-television‘ abduction has garnered from both investigative journalists, and massive media outlets, alike. No major news source has been capable of ascertaining an interview with the friends or family of Fernando Castro, or providing any more concrete details about the dramatic abduction. Almost every single article on this major, newsworthy event is a simple regurgitation of the standard police release on Pearl’s abduction.
Undoubtedly, this abduction has failed to elicit the same scrutinization and public dissemination as many other, frankly, less interesting and less solvable disappearances.
The potentially-not-sexy narrative of a mentally-ill perpetrator acting out a childish (and unrecognized and unwarranted) high school vendetta, or simply acting out his own malformed, violent compulsion reeks heavily of class, wealth, and cultural issues. In-depth coverage of this story could likely entail a focused examination of complex issues and tragic circumstances- the kind of issues and circumstances that are rarely addressed headfirst by media or law enforcement.
But, regardless, a young and independent young woman was forcefully stolen away in broad daylight on the way to her bus.
Furthermore, she was then, somehow, effectively erased from the world.
How can this kind of tragic mystery be allowed to remain unsolved in our modern society? And, what are we- as members of this technologically-advanced, information-driven society doing about it? What can be done about it to more reliably produce results?
Details To Remember
The locations where Fernando could have taken Pearl on May 25, 2016 are simply too vast to thoroughly search. In addition, if he did hand her off to a friend or associate, she could have been taken out of the area entirely, and may still be alive.
Still, authorities have conducted several massive searches, including the following areas:
- the Glen Cove coastline area of Vallejo;
- an open field and stream search of the area around the abduction site;
- the area along Highway 37 from Vallejo to Sonoma County;
- the Skaggs Island area.
Again, authorities believe Fernando may have taken Pearl to the Jenner, California area. However, they are interested in speaking with anyone who may have seen him or his vehicle on May 25th or May 26th.
Using the locational information of Fernando’s movements throughout the Bay Area of California, what do you think is the most likely area that Pearl may have been taken to? Does this unusual abduction seem to be more likely a product of obsession or criminal sex trafficking? What do YOU think, if any, is the most potentially important unreleased piece of information which could lead to a resolution in the case? Does a discernible lack of media coverage exist in regards to this dramatic abduction in your opinion? If so, why do think media has not sufficiently covered this mystery??
Fernando Castro was last confirmed to have been driving “a gold 1997 four-door Saturn with a California license plate of 5XZD385.”
Pearl Pinson is 5-foot, 3-inches tall, weighs about 130 pounds, and has green eyes. She also has brown hair dyed green and a pierced lip. Pearl was last seen wearing a grey sweater, black leggings, and her Joker backpack.
Anyone with any information or tips relating either to Pearl Pinson or Fernando Castro is urged to call “707-784-1963, or to call 911 or 421-7090 if the information is urgent.” At this point, any tiny piece of information could lead to the resolution of this disappearance.