10-year-old had been missing since Tuesday
“Nothing else matters to me right now. I just want her to hear me say ‘I love you.’ It doesn’t matter what you done right now.” Angelique Cottrell
The tearful embrace was instant, with the argument that tore them apart the day before having been forgotten.
Angelique Cottrell bolted out of her kitchen door and grabbed her daughter, Eriel Cottrell, 10, tight, hugging her, making her promise she would never run away again after Baton Rouge missing persons detectives arrived in the Cottrell family’s driveway Wednesday afternoon with her adopted daughter.
“Promise me,” Angelique Cottrell cried.
The reunion seemed unlikely a few hours earlier as Cottrell, who could not sleep Tuesday night, searched for answers after Eriel disappeared that afternoon.
The fourth-grader walked away from the driveway about 4 p.m. Tuesday in a huff after an argument with her adoptive mother over school paperwork on the way home from La Belle Aire Elementary.
Eriel was upset because she felt her mother took the side of her teachers and school administrators over hers when it came to school work and discipline.
Angelique Cottrell — familiar with this routine after her daughter ran away for more than two hours in July — followed on foot until she decided to walk back home, jump in her car with her oldest son and pick up the trail.
“When we turned (onto South Choctaw), I said, ‘Oh my God, this girl had gotten into somebody’s car,’ ” said the mother of four.
Her daughter was nowhere to be found along the highly traveled road, which is sparsely populated in that area, and Cottrell had no idea where Eriel was until police called at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
While Cottrell was being interviewed by The Advocate, her oldest son, Daqwan Cottrell, received the phone call, listened for about 30 seconds, scribbled a note on a piece of paper and held it up for his mother to see.
“They had found her,” the note read.
Angelique Cottrell buried her head in her hands and began crying.
“Thank you, Jesus,” she cried. “God is good and when you pray, He listens.”
Over the next two hours, Cottrell nervously waited for detectives to bring her daughter home. She called family members, gave neighbors the good news and called everyone she knew.
“Nothing else matters to me right now,” she said. “I just want her to hear me say ‘I love you.’ It doesn’t matter what you done right now.”
Before getting the good news, she and family members had planned to walk to South Choctaw with several missing persons posters, hoping someone driving by might have seen what happened to Eriel.
Cottrell thought someone had picked Eriel up and taken her. Turns out, Cottrell was right.
Detectives said two people described as good Samaritans saw Eriel walking along South Choctaw, stopped, picked her up and took her to their home, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police spokesman.
On Wednesday, they turned Eriel over to a woman described as a foster mother. She called the police to say Eriel was with her.
McKneely said Eriel was not harmed, but he was unsure why the good Samaritans did not call police immediately after they saw Eriel walking along South Choctaw.
“She’s very lucky,” he said.
One thing that helped police in their investigation was that Cottrell filed a missing person report almost immediately, McKneely said.
Some people erroneously believe that someone has to be gone for 24 hours before a missing person report can be filed.
“The sooner the better,” he said. “Detectives were able to get it sooner than normal and start the investigation earlier than they would have.”
He said that was key to finding the missing 10-year-old.
Looking at her daughter following the cheerful return, Cottrell said: “You put everybody to scare.”
Eriel said the man and woman she knew as Lawrence and Jessica were nice to her and fed her.
“She was lucky this time because it could have been somebody else when she got in the car,” Cottrell said.
Later Wednesday afternoon, Cottrell — who adopted Eriel and her two brothers — spoke to the couple and came away at ease with what happened.
She said that they did not call police after finding Eriel because she cried when they almost pulled into her mother’s driveway, having circled the block a few times, and they were unsure what to do.
Cottrell spoke to the couple after her reunion with Eriel.
“I thanked them,” Cottrell said, “because it could have been worse.”