Preliminary investigation leans toward runaway, says sheriff
■ Kyle Selby / Reporter
On Monday, Nov. 27, Knicko and Debbie Askari started to worry when their 16-year-old daughter Victoria did not answer her phone calls, and wasn’t at school when Debbie came to pick her up. When Debbie visited the office, she discovered that her daughter’s phone was found, dropped off earlier that day by an unidentified male in his 40s.
Two other Hemet High students, siblings Clyde Murray, 14, and Melissa Murray, 16, are acquaintances of Victoria Askari and also went missing from the school Monday.
“At this point nothing indicates foul play,” said Sgt. Ron Lawler of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. “School resource officer Deputy John Ethridge at Hemet High School is reviewing video feeds.”
Lawler believes that Askari and the Murrays are currently “not at risk,” and are leaning toward labeling this as a case of runaway juveniles. A flier distributed Wednesday afternoon by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department indicated that the trio of missing kids was likely together.
“Askari was last seen at Hemet High School where she attended school for part of the day. Clyde and Melissa Murray were last seen boarding a school bus destined for Hemet High School. All three juveniles are believed to be together,” reads the flier.
According to Viliz Murray, Clyde and Melissa’s legal guardian, Clyde is rarely anywhere outside of school without adult supervision. Melissa however, has run away from home at least three times. She says both kids are also in special education classes with third and fourth grade reading levels.
“I’m just shocked. I really just hope they are OK,” said Murray.
Knicko Askari, a disaster response contractor, finds it hard to believe that his daughter ran away considering she left her wallet, ID and all of her clothes behind.
“If you’re going to run away, you’re going to take all of that stuff with you,” he explained.
According to the Askaris, 15 months ago Victoria had a boyfriend that her parents weren’t too happy about. Despite instructing her not to see him, she left school to visit him, but returned home a few hours later. According to her father, that is the only instance in which she had ever “run away.”
Victoria also has a friend in Oregon who has a prolonged history of running away; however there is no evidence suggesting that she is linked to this case. The Askaris were adamant that their daughter never showed them any indication that she was unhappy with her current living situation.
“Victoria’s cell phone was found and turned into the school,” said Sgt. Lawler. “The school didn’t ask him for any identifying information so they don’t know who turned the phone in. The family has the code for the cell phone so they can access the data inside and look for clues as to her whereabouts.”
The individual who dropped off the phone was later identified as a local baseball coach who found the phone on his daily walk that cuts through the outside perimeter of the school campus.
An attendance report from Hemet High revealed that the last class Askari attended on Monday was her third period dance class, which ended around 11:33 a.m. Her parents believe she left the school grounds around lunchtime.
Knicko has been vocal about his disappointment with Hemet High, and their state of security.
“I’m not one of those parents that are just going to take it,” said Knicko. “Somebody is going to get fired.”
According to a Hemet High representative, students must qualify for an off-campus pass in order to leave the premises during break hours.
“Yes, I am aware of the situation as I had a chance to speak to the family about this at length yesterday,” wrote Hemet High School Principal Emily Shaw in an email Tuesday. “The family is very upset and rightfully so. The disappearance of a student is not something we take lightly. As soon as we were made aware of the situation we began working with law enforcement directly and they are currently investigating it.”
Victoria Askari is 5’4”, weighs about 120 pounds, has long straight black hair down to her lower back, and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing black pants, a dark gray Nike hoodie, and Nike sandals with black socks. She also has a nose ring.
Melissa Murray is 5’5”, weighs about 115 pounds, has braided hair, and brown eyes. She has a scar above her left eye. She has a petite, small frame.
Clyde Murray is 5’3”, weighs about 106 pounds, has short black hair, and brown eyes.
At press time, the three students had not been located. Fliers have been posted on social media sites and around town.
Knicko Askari is offering a cash reward for Victoria’s safe return and/or whereabouts, and can be contacted at 909-559-4084. Contact Investigator Medina with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department at 951-791-3400.