A Vermilion County teenager reported as a runaway earlier this month made it home safely for Christmas following a law enforcement search that stretched into the upper East Coast.

The 16-year-old Hoopeston girl was reported to the police as a runaway by her parents on the evening of Dec. 6. Hoopeston police Chief Mark Drollinger said officers learned the girl and her 20-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Caldwell, purchased bus tickets for the state of New York in Indianapolis.

But after an almost two-week investigation, the teenager returned home to Hoopeston on Friday with her father.

“Not always are missing person cases so successful,” Drollinger said. “When you have a young naive teenager running around in another part of the country, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“Very bad things could have happened.”

Hoopeston police dealt with a number of leads and false hopes in the case, prompting the police chief to double-check that the 16-year-old girl had been recovered before letting her parents know.

The effect was immediate for both the mother and father.

“It was total relief,” Drollinger said. “It sounded as if 300 pounds came off his shoulders.”

The names of the girl and her parents were not released. Speaking through Drollinger, the girl’s father declined the opportunity to comment.

The girl’s father traveled to New York that first weekend to try to look for his daughter, distributing fliers as part of his search.

Although the search that first weekend was unsuccessful, the 16 year old stayed in contact with him and her mother, letting them know she was OK.

Drollinger said the investigation determined the duo had moved into the upstate New York area, near New Hampshire. Then, on Dec. 19, Caldwell called Hoopeston police and the 16 year old’s mother, claiming they were abducted and being held at gunpoint near Hillsborough, N.H.

Drollinger, recalling information he’d read in law enforcement publications, called Lt. William Barry, an investigator with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department. Barry assisted in the investigation, using the cellular phone Caldwell had used to track the duo near Otisville, N.Y.

Barry was able to obtain in hours cell phone information that would have taken Hoopeston police investigators days to receive, Drollinger said.

The New Hampshire lieutenant then contacted Mt. Hope, N.Y., Officer James Rich who set about distributing fliers with the 16 year old’s picture from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Web site.

“Normally, that’s where the story would end,” Drollinger said.

But, as it happened, Rich stopped in Otisville, N.Y., to get some gas on his way home when he spotted a vehicle with three people inside — one of whom resembled the missing girl.

Rich approached the girl, who at first denied the situation but eventually admitted her identity. The other two people in the vehicle were identified as Caldwell and Nicholas Degroat, a man wanted on rape charges in Pennsylvania.

Caldwell was taken into custody and extradition proceedings are expected to begin this week to transport Caldwell back to Vermilion County, where he faces a Class 4 felony charge of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

Degroat drove away before he could be arrested.

Drollinger said Caldwell and the 16-year-old girl knew Degroat through an associate of Caldwell’s father.

The duo later admitted the abduction call made by Caldwell was false.