TOMS RIVER —The biological parents of a 17-year-old girl who police spent five days searching for have been charged with violating child custody orders by hiding the girl from her adoptive parents.

Ashley Combs turned up at the police station Wednesday night. Authorities said Thursday that she had "willingly" gone missing Friday after leaving school and was found Wednesday night with her biological father, Brian Combs.

Combs, 45, was arrested and charged with obstruction and interference with custody.

Ashley Combs' biological mother, Mechelle Combs, and a friend of Brian Combs, Linda Roszel, were charged with obstruction with custody and released on summonses. Roszel was also charged with interference.

Ashley has been living with her biological uncle, Rob Nieratko, and her aunt, who adopted her as their daughter six years ago.

Police said the biological parents had raised concerns with her "home environment" but Nieratko denied the allegations.

"Without getting into specifics, the birth parents' parental rights were terminated for a reason," Nieratko's attorney, Jef Henninger, said.

"My client has no history of anything. There's no action being taken against my client. His children aren't removed. There's no restrictions on him."

The teen went missing after attending class at Toms River High School North and did not return home. Nieratko posted her disappearance on Facebook, which was widely shared in the media and online.

Police spokeswoman Jillian Messina said that investigators had quickly determined that Ashley was not in any danger and that she was willingly staying with family and friends who moved her between locations in order to hide her from law enforcement.

During the disappearance, Henninger took the unusual step of setting a deadline for her safe return by 9 a.m. Tuesday, no questions asked, but she was not returned.

Henninger said there is no indication she was harmed but said that his clients continue to believe that the girl was in danger.

Ashley Combs
Ashley Combs (Rob Nieratko)

Henninger said the family would follow through on its threat to press charges against whoever was involved with Ashley's disappearance.

"These people broke the law. It's important for other people to know that when someone is a minor you can't take it upon yourself to do what you want with somebody else's child. If you think the child is in danger there's mechanisms in the legal system to protect that child," he said.

New Jersey 101.5 did not know Thursday whether Brian Combs had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. Mechelle Combs could not be reached by phone Thursday afternoon.


Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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