Lena Dixon had been missing for more than two weeks. The FBI and local police still didn’t know where she was. Then her mom got a chilling text message.

As KDKA News reports, on an evening in late June, the 15-year-old from Vandergrift, Pennsylvania left the McDonald’s where she worked, got into a mysterious white car, and vanished.

Screenshot/KDKA

While local law enforcement — aided by the FBI — tried to figure out what happened to Dixon, Stefanie Grantham, her mother, waited in increasing anxiety. Grantham told KDKA:

“A lot of times I’m crying, asking myself questions. What did I miss? Where is she? Is she gonna come home safe? Is she gonna reach out to me?”

Seventeen days after Dixon’s disappearance, her mother received a text that promised her return … at a price. The message read, “I have your daughter. Me and my men took her.”  

The men claiming to have kidnapped Dixon demanded $2,000 for the teen’s return. And her mother was willing to do whatever it took to see her daughter home again. Grantham told KDKA she didn’t question the veracity of the texts, only thinking that “I was gonna get her back.”

Grantham passed the ransom demands on to the authorities, then set about trying to get proof that they had her daughter, safe and unharmed. But the “kidnappers” wouldn’t cooperate. Though Grantham asked them who they were and how she could be sure they really had her daughter, they wouldn’t send a photo of Dixon.

Rather than accepting cash for the ransom, the kidnappers were insisting on being paid in iTunes gift cards. And efforts to trace them were frustrated by the fact that they were using an app to send messages.

Then Grantham received more bad news: the supposed kidnappers didn’t have her daughter after all. They were just scammers who had learned about Dixon’s disappearance through the news and looked up Grantham in hopes of tricking her into sending money. 

Authorities say the scam isn’t unusual and is often attempted by con artists working out of Russia or China who go through online news sources looking for potential victims. A heartbroken Grantham told KDKA:

“It doesn’t make it any easier. You have no clue where my daughter is, asking for money. It’s very heartless that someone would do that to somebody that’s hurting.”

Fortunately, on Friday, Grantham got the call she had been longing for. According to TribLive, FBI agents and law enforcement in Marine City, Michigan found Dixon with 55-year-old Bruce Kirkpatrick in a private home.

Notified by an FBI agent that her daughter had been located, Dixon immediately got in the car and drove to Michigan to get her. The teen was unharmed, but taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Kirkpatrick was arrested on multiple charges and has entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment. Dixon is back home again with her family. Her mother told TribLive that, “We are doing dishes and cleaning up together like we did before.”

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After Daughter Goes Missing, Mom Gets Ransom Demand. But the ‘Kidnappers’ Were Really Scammers

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