NJ girl remains ‘missing’ after deadline for her return passes
TOMS RIVER — A deadline to return 17-year-old Ashley Combs to her legal guardians has come and gone four days after she left home.
Combs was last seen on Friday afternoon after attending classes at Toms River High School North. Following a weekend of news of her disappearance being shared on social media by her uncle/adoptive father, Rob Nieratko, attorney Jef Henninger took the unusual step of setting a deadline for her safe return by 9 a.m. Tuesday, no questions asked.
Henninger said Tuesday, minutes after the deadline passed, that Combs was still missing.
Toms River police spokeswoman Jillian Messina said Combs' disappearance is not considered suspicious.
"All indications are that she left home purposely and would not divulge her location to people she has had contact with," Messina said.
Henninger said Toms River police are investigating and tracking down leads. No tips from the public have provided a substantial clue, according to Henninger.
The state Department of Children and Families on its Twitter account said they are concerned about Combs' whereabouts and urged anyone with information to contact police.
"Our legal plan of action is to keep up the pressure, keep up the media attention as much as possible, keep up the search," Henninger told New Jersey 101.5. "We're not going to give up even if this fades out of the media. She's going to have to surface at some point and we'll figure out who did this. That person is going to be brought to justice and they're going to be left with no excuses."
Combs did not have her cell phone, money or a change of clothes when she left her home on Friday. Henninger said she had "little resources" to plan a run away from home.
Henninger said her friends have few resources to hide her as they are children and live with adults. While the initial thinking was that she was with a friend, Henninger said her friends live with their parents or some adult. All her friends also denied knowing where she is.
"Someone has her and that person knows that what they are doing is illegal and they don't care. They are willing to sacrifice their job, their family and their own freedom by keeping Ashley away from her parents, family members, friends, school and a normal teenage life," Henninger said.
Henninger said he is not trying to reach anyone in particular with his stern message and said there is no evidence she is more likely with one person or another. He believes that she is still in the Ocean/Monmouth county area.
"We want to make sure no one out there is covering for her and want to make sure they understand that in itself is a crime and they need to come forward and they need to help this investigation. The more this goes on, the more likely that she is in a dangerous situation," Henninger said.
Nieratko in a post on his Facebook page said Combs lives a “comfortable life” and is not abused “in any way shape or form.” She is not allowed to have a cell phone or contact with her birth parents but said the reasons are "nobody's business."
He also said his daughter will not be able to graduate in June because of her missing school.
"At the end of the day, Ashley is missing. If this were your child, you would be doing everything within your power to have her safely brought home. You don’t have to agree with my tactics in achieving this goal, but I believe that I am doing everything the right way," Nieratko said.
Toms River police said anyone with information about Combs' whereabouts should call them at 732-349-0150.
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