Authorities are investigating a California girl's claim that her family tried to force her into an arranged marriage in Pakistan, prompting the 13-year-old to run away from home and hide in a nearby motel.
Jesse Marie Bender disappeared from her Southern California home Feb. 22. Local and federal authorities launched a nationwide search for the child after her mother, Melissa Bender, said she thought her daughter was kidnapped by someone she met on Facebook.
But the family's account fell flat when police found the girl early Wednesday hiding at the Black Horse Motel in Apple Valley, Calif.
Jesse Bender, who was found unharmed and in the company of her biological uncle, told police she ran away to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage in Pakistan.
Roxanne Walker, a spokeswoman with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office, told FoxNews.com that the teen lived in Hesperia, Calif., with her biological mother and stepfather, Mohammad Khan, a Pakistani native, but Walker said there were conflicting reports on whether Melissa Bender and Khan were legally married.
Walker said the girl was first reported as a juvenile runaway. She said the girl's mother told police that her daughter was upset about having to go on a two-month vacation to Pakistan. Melissa Bender then changed her story, Walker said, when she told authorities that Jesse may have been taken by a man she met on Facebook.
"She [Bender] said her daughter was communicating with someone on Facebook and that she thought she was abducted," Walker said. "However, our investigation did not reveal any of that. She was afraid of going to Pakistan and left."
Walker said the girl was found safe at the motel with her biological uncle, whose name she declined to release.
"He did protect her," Walker said. "He was concerned for her welfare."
She also said the child's biological father had been interviewed by authorities and had "no involvement" in the case.
Police confirmed Friday that the girl and her three siblings have been placed into child protective custody, as authorities decide whether to recommend filing charges against her family.
No arrests have been made. A call to the Bender family home in Hesperia went unanswered Friday morning.
Police say Melissa Bender's statement launched a nationwide kidnapping investigation by the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, and multiple law enforcement agencies fearful that the girl was with an Internet predator. Detectives served several search warrants and the investigation reached as far as Chicago because the mother believed the person who befriended her daughter on Facebook lived there.
Kelly Saindon, a family law attorney, said the girl's family could face criminal charges if it is believed that they purposely misled authorities.
"The family knew they were providing false information," Saindon said in an interview with Fox News. “They were leaving details out and they created a wild good chase."
The Associated Press contributed to this report