BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – The departure of a U.S. Air Force officer who went missing for three days in Kyrgyzstan "strongly complicates" the probe into her mysterious disappearance, a high-level police official in the Central Asian nation said Sunday.
Maj. Jill Metzger, 33, disappeared Tuesday while shopping for souvenirs in Bishkek, and a massive search involving Kyrgyz and U.S. investigators came up empty until late Friday, when police say she knocked on the door in a town outside the capital and told its inhabitants she had been abducted.
Metzger was taken out of Kyrgyzstan on Saturday, and the U.S. military said she arrived Sunday at an American military hospital in Germany for medical exams and debriefing.
Some of the U.S. investigators who had converged on Kyrgyzstan to search for Metzger were still working actively with Kyrgyz authorities, said Capt. Anna Carpenter, spokeswoman at the U.S. air base at Bishkek's civilian airport where Metzger had been close to the end of a four-month stint.
"They're still out there banging on doors and looking at leads," Carpenter said. Now that Metzger is safe, she said, investigators "can focus on what happened to her and finding those responsible," as well eliminating a possible threat to others.
But Kemilbek Kiyazov, chief of the police department in the region surrounding Bishkek, where Metzger was found, said the probe would go more smoothly if she were in Kyrgyzstan to provide more detailed evidence.
"Her absence strongly complicates the investigation," Kiyazov told The Associated Press.
"She should in detail describe the outward appearance of her abductors, draw a diagram of where they took her," said Kiyazov, who saw and talked to Metzger after she reappeared.
According to Kiyazov, Metzger told police that after she split from others shopping at Bishkek's main department store, someone put a hard object and a note saying it was an explosive in a back pocket of her jeans. The note also included detailed instructions about where to go and what to do.
Metzger said she was then met by three men and a woman who put her into a minibus, took her to a residence and placed her in a dark room, according to Kiyazov, who said she related that she managed to escape by striking one of her abductors when he brought her food.
Kiyazov said her hair had been dyed dark brown and her hands were stained with dye.
An account from Metzger's father-in-law differed from that of Kyrgyz police, though both indicated kidnapping. Kelly Mayo told The Associated Press in Colorado Springs, Colorado, late Friday that the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations said she had been found on the side of the road with her head shaven.
Kiyazov said Sunday that the investigation into Metzger's disappearance was being handled by Bishkek police.
Carpenter said U.S. investigators were confident that Metzger's departure would not hamper the probe, and that "taking care of Major Metzger was the first priority" in the decision to remove her from Kyrgyzstan.
"She can tell her story from wherever she is," she said.
Metzger arrived at Ramstein Air Base in Germany from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for "follow-up medical exams and furthre debriefings," a statement from the U.S. Air Forces Europe headquarters said.
Staff at the hospital are caring for Metzger and "assisting in her smooth transition back to the U.S.," the statement said. It said it was unclear how long she would stay in Germany, but that debriefing can last three to six days.
Metzger phoned her parents in Henderson, North Carolina, early Saturday to let them know she was safe, The News & Observer newspaper of Raleigh reported Sunday. Her parents said the call left questions about her disappearance, and they still did not know why she vanished, where she was during her ordeal or how she got back.
"She kept saying, "I'm fine, I'm OK, I'm OK," her mother, Jeanette Metzger, told the newspaper.
John Metzger, a retired Air Force colonel, said his daughter seemed to be in shock.
"Her tone of voice at the beginning was kind of distant, I would say, and then all of a sudden, I heard the old Jill come back," he said.
Metzger's father-in-law said her husband, Joshua Mayo, had told him Saturday that she was resting at a clinic at Bagram air base.
The couple was married April 8 and Metzger was deployed 10 days later, and they had been set to leave Sept. 24 for a delayed honeymoon, he said.