Rhona Curtsinger describes her 17-year-old daughter as hilarious, sensitive and smart, with a fierce love of animals.
She last saw her daughter, Daphne Westbrook, in October 2019 as the girl was leaving to spend time with her father.
“I didn’t know that that was the last time I’d see her, when she said goodbye to just spend that weekend with her dad,” Curtsinger said.
Daphne never returned to her home in Chattanooga, Tenn. When her daughter first went missing, Curtsinger said, she didn’t know where Daphne had gone or with whom. The girl’s two dogs, Fern and Strawberry, also disappeared.
Officials in Tennessee and New Mexico announced Tuesday they now believe the teen’s father, John Robert Westbrook, is holding her somewhere in Santa Fe against her will, cutting her off from access to the outside world, possibly drugging her and causing her severe mental distress. State and federal law enforcement agencies and the New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Santa Fe have been working with Tennessee authorities to find the girl and her father.
Authorities believe Daphne left willingly with her father, said Melydia Clewell, chief of staff for the District Attorney’s Office Hamilton County, Tenn., but has since been unable to leave and is at “serious risk” because she is not receiving medication for a mental health condition.
“We believe that she is being kept intoxicated to prevent her from leaving,” Clewell added.
The Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office said Daphne’s cellphone is kept wrapped in aluminum foil and her computer is shut off most of the time. Although, her father sporadically allows her to use these devices for limited periods under his supervision.
“I can’t imagine that type of life that is for her,” Curtsinger said. “She needs to be surrounded by a support system somewhere.”
She added, “There’s just so much that we don’t know and we don’t understand. That’s not what’s most important. … What’s most important is for her to be safe and to be OK emotionally and physically.”
John Westbrook, who is facing a kidnapping charge, initially was cooperative with the investigation until authorities asked him to bring Daphne back, Curtsinger and Clewell said, and then he went silent.
He was traced to New Mexico after records showed he dropped off a U-Haul in Albuquerque and investigators later determined he was shopping regularly in Santa Fe. Clewell said he has been making trips to a local Walmart to purchase a single banana and withdraw cash.
The Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office also said Daphne’s Bible was found last month in a trash can at the Trader Joe’s store on Cordova Road.
Clewell said Westbrook is an IT expert who has specialized in security, blockchain technology and Bitcoin and is likely doing freelance computer security work for an income. Investigators hope to shut down those assets, she added.
News reports in Colorado indicate officials have confirmed Westbrook spent time in the Pueblo, Colo., and Denver areas, and officials have received recent tips that he was spotted in Gunnison. But authorities believe he has been living primarily in New Mexico.
“They think that he is living here or residing here, so the investigation has been focused on Santa Fe,” First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said Wednesday. “They finally feel like they’ve tracked him down and that law enforcement is close to getting him.”
Officials also are asking the New Mexico equestrian community to be vigilant, as Daphne’s father might have allowed her to go horseback riding.
State police Lt. Mark Soriano said agents and officers have followed up on potential leads provided by the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office in an attempt to find Daphne and John Westbrook.
The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Office have aided Tennessee investigators as well. Clewell said U.S. marshals visited Westbrook’s family in Washington and are following new leads in Colorado.
Santa Fe police Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said the local department is not yet involved with the investigation.
“We remain prepared to assist NMSP and the District Attorney’s Office if our assistance is requested,” Valdez said.