Mitrice Richardson walked out of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's substation in the middle of the night last week and found herself on a deserted street of offices and industrial buildings.
She was about 40 miles from home, in a place she didn't know. She had no car, no phone, no money and no jacket. It was 1 a.m.
Richardson, 24, a graduate of Cal State Fullerton who lives in south Los Angeles, hasn't been heard from since.
A possible sighting occurred a few hours after her release, about 6:30 a.m. Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies took a call from a residence in Malibu regarding a woman in the back yard.
Detective Chuck Knolls of the Los Angeles Police Department's robbery and homicide unit said residents asked the woman if she was OK and she said she was fine. By the time deputies got there, Knolls added, the woman was gone.
If the woman was Richardson, she had traveled about five miles, hiking out of the industrial area into the nearby mountains. The station where she'd been held is on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains, near the 101 Freeway and the Ventura County line.
"She was sweet, but was saying that the ocean was calling her to Malibu. The behavior was not right," said Jeff Peterson, owner of Geoffrey's Malibu, an upscale, oceanfront restaurant where Richardson dined Sept. 16, the night before her disappearance.
Richardson ate alone, ordering a steak dinner and a drink. But when presented with the $89 bill, she said she had no money.
Richardson told restaurant employees that she was from Mars and started to talk to them in a made up language. She also became fixated on a nearby computer screen, looking closely at the numbers.
"She was saying 'There is an eight,' and 'That's an eight,' and 'Eight is my favorite number'," Peterson said.
Richardson asked to call her 90-year-old great-grandmother, with whom she lives in Los Angeles, as a way to settle the bill. But the restaurant wouldn't accept a payment without a signature.
Richardson's great-grandmother then called Richardson's mother, Latrice Sutton, and explained the situation. Sutton said by the time she called the restaurant, her daughter was being arrested and placed in a sheriff's patrol car.
Someone at the restaurant told Sutton her daughter was "not in any frame of mind to drive."
"Her mother said she had been hanging around with the wrong people and that this was probably the best thing for her,"
Richardson was arrested by sheriff's deputies at about 8:30 p.m. Her white 1990 Honda Civic was impounded.
Richardson was booked on suspicion of failing to pay for dinner and on suspicion of being in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, which was found in her car. Authorities have not released the police report.
Sutton said she believes her daughter was in a "manic state of mind" because she was sending "erratic" text messages to family and friends the afternoon of Sept. 16.
Richardson's aunt, Lauren Sutton, said she received several texts.
"She told me how much I meant to her," Lauren Sutton said of her niece. "I called her constantly but she didn't pick up."
The sheriff's procedure when someone appears to be mentally incapacitated is to get them to a facility
for a mental evaluation. But, in Richardson's case, deputies didn't see anything that would prompt such a call
, said Los Angeles sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Sharon Cummings, the custody assistant who processed Richardson at the sheriff's substation, said she was "coherent and had no problem talking."
But, Cummings said, Richardson did seem scared to be in jail.
Cummings added that she and Richardson talked about music.
Cummings said she doesn't release women at night if they don't have a ride. But according to Cummings, Richardson insisted, saying she was going to "hook up with friends."
"I said you can stay until morning.
It's cold and dark out," Cummings said. "She said 'yes,' and then decided not to stay. She said, 'No. I don't want to stay in jail.'"
Richardson made several calls from a phone at the station before she left, Cumming said. "She was calling people and I heard her talking," Cummings said.
Who she called remains a mystery. Sutton said her daughter didn't call anybody in their family.
A massive search for Richardson was conducted on Sept. 19.
Helicopters flew over the area and two types of dogs some that track scents and some that look for bodies were taken into the rural mountain community where Richardson was last seen.
Knolls of the LAPD said dogs picked up her scent at the property where a woman was reportedly seen in a back yard hours after Richardson's release, but the dogs couldn't follow the scent into the property next door.