SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) – A 20-year-old Indiana woman has not been seen or heard from in three weeks since she vanished in California under mysterious circumstances, her family said.
Lateche Norris traveled from Indiana to California to be with her boyfriend and enjoy San Diego’s beaches, according to her family. Shortly after arriving in San Diego, she called her mother in distress from a stranger’s phone on Nov. 5.
Norris told her mother, Cheryl Walker, that she was in a heated argument with her boyfriend the night before. Norris didn’t say why she didn’t have access to her own phone, but said she would call her back. She never did.
Walker alerted the San Diego Police Department on Nov. 10 and police opened a missing person case. Police said they do not consider Norris to be “at-risk,” but her family and friends strongly disagree.
“My daughter is just as important as Gabby Petito,” Walker wrote on Facebook. “As if what happened to that sweet girl wasn’t heartbreaking enough.”
Walker has been searching in San Diego for her daughter day and night. She and other have put up missing person posters around several California beach towns Norris may have visited, including Santa Cruz, because Norris loves the beach.
Norris and her boyfriend, Joseph “Joey” Smith, lived together in Santa Cruz over the summer. They are both aspiring tattoo artists.
Norris’ family and friends said they attempted to contact Smith, but calls and messages have gone unanswered.
“He made a lot of promises to her, and how he’s nowhere to be found,” said Whitney Sich, founder of the nonprofit, A Voice For The Voiceless.
Norris is usually active on social media, but her social media accounts have been dormant since Nov. 5.
“All of this is uncharacteristic. If Lateche ever says ‘I’m going to call you back,’ she calls back. It’s been three weeks now,” Sich said. “There are no signs of life of her anywhere.”
The missing woman’s parents are holding out hope that she will be found safe. But as more time passes, their hopes are fading.
“She has no resources. No money,” Sich said.
Norris had lived in Indiana her whole life before she moved to Santa Cruz in the summer of 2021. Her mother said she didn’t like the idea of her daughter being so far away, but living in California was one of Norris’ dreams.
In their last phone call earlier this month, Norris told her mother she was trying to contact her boyfriend, and they ended their phone conversation so Norris could call Smith.
“You call me back! I love you,” Walker told her daughter. “The last words my daughter said were, ‘I will Momma, I promise, I love you more.'”
Walker criticized the San Diego Police Department for not doing enough to find her daughter. “(SDPD) chose to ignore the red flags and try to push a narrative that ‘we see this all the time,'” Walker wrote.
Norris has brown eyes, dark brown or black hair, is 5’7″ tall, weighs 180 pounds, and has letters tattooed on her fingers.
Anyone with information on Norris’ whereabouts is encouraged to email Findlateche@gmail.com or call the San Diego Police Department at 619-531-2446.