Missing foreign exchange student found safe in tent in 'cyber kidnapping' in Utah: police

The 17-year-old was found days after he was reported missing, police said.

A missing foreign exchange student from China has been found safe in a tent in the Utah mountains after a daylong search that police said was a “cyber kidnapping.”

Cai Zhuang, 17, went missing Thursday night at her high school, according to the Riverdale Police Department. Police said the teenager's parents told school officials they received a photo from Zhuang's abductors of her alleged abduction.

His family told police they transferred the ransom money to bank accounts in China “due to repeated threats from the kidnappers,” the Riverdale Police Department said. Police said they also provided a photo showing Zhuang being held captive and in danger.

The teenager's host family was unaware she was missing and there were no signs she had been forcibly taken from her Riverdale home, police said. Police said the family heard that he was at home early Thursday morning.

Riverdale police said they were working with the FBI, the U.S. Embassy in China and Chinese authorities to track down the suspected cyber trafficker. The perpetrators of this crime target foreign exchange students and ask them to isolate themselves and pose as prisoners in an attempt to rescue the victim's family, police said. Police said the victims complied fearing harm to their families.

Dec. On the 20th, investigators learned that Zhuang had purchased camping equipment in Provo, about 75 miles south of Riverdale, but local police were concerned for his safety and arranged transportation to return him to his family, Riverdale police said.

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Riverdale police said the victim did not tell police or her host parents at the time that she was being controlled by cyber traffickers.

Investigators believed Zhuang had now isolated himself in the direction of the cyber traffickers amid dangerously cold temperatures in a tent in the Brigham City canyon area, about 27 miles north of Riverdale, police said.

The Weber County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Drone Team and the Brigham City Police Department assisted in the search for the teenager over a large area of ​​the Wasatch Front in Brigham City. The teenager was found “alive but very cold and scared” inside a tent in a wooded area on Sunday.

“The victim was relieved to see the police,” Riverdale police said. “The victim had no heat source inside the tent, only a thermal blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water, and several phones believed to have been used for cyber-trafficking.”

First responders said the teenager did not have any major medical concerns at the scene.

“The victim only wanted to talk to his family to make sure he was safe and requested a hot cheeseburger, both of which were accomplished on the way back to the Riverdale hold,” police said.

The investigation is ongoing.

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Riverdale Police urge anyone who is a victim of cyber-trafficking to stop communicating with the suspects, stop sending them money, and contact their local police department immediately.

“I want foreign exchange students to know they can trust the police to protect them and work with the police to ensure their safety and the safety of their families abroad,” Riverdale President Casey Warren said in a statement.

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