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Search parties sweep parts of city for missing teen

Developmentally disabled 19-year-old last seen Sunday

The family of a Phoenix teen missing in Tucson since Sunday held several search parties around the city on Saturday to look for the developmentally disabled 19-year-old.

Eli Solomon Rabago, of Phoenix, was last seen at his grandparents' home near Skyline and Sunrise drives around 7 a.m. Sunday. Eli has the intellectual ability of an 11-year-old, his family said.

The Rabago family reported Saturday that they had received information about two sightings of Eli in the area of First Avenue and Limberlost Drive, near LA Fitness, 4240 N. First Ave., according to a post on the Rabago Family Support Page on Facebook.

On Friday, the family received a report from a man who said he saw a young man fitting Eli's description at a bus stop at Alvernon Way and Grant Road.

According to the tip, the young man introduced himself as Eli and was with another teen described as about 14 years old, 5 feet 2 inches tall with a slight build, according to a post on Facebook. 

In the post, the family said that another man at the bus stop reported seeing Eli at at the Woods Memorial Branch Library, 3455 N. First Ave.

There have been sightings of Eli near First Avenue and Fort Lowell, where family, friends and volunteers have been searching since receiving the first tip Monday. Eli was reportedly seen at the Food City in the area.

On Thursday, someone reported seeing a man fitting Eli's description at the Walmart and a Subway sandwich shop at Ina and Thornydale roads. According to tip, the man had a frozen dinner that he'd taken into Subway and asked staff to heat it for him, the family wrote on the Facebook page.

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Ruben Rabago, Eli's father, said Friday that it's possible his son had a small amount of cash with him to be able to buy food, but said the teen had misplaced his wallet last week.

He said the family believes the reported sighting is "positive."

The family set up the page on Facebook where supporters can obtain information about sightings, what areas to search, download a flyer to distribute, and offer words of encouragement.

As of Saturday afternoon, the page had more than 940 supporters, whom the family calls the "Pink Shoelace Crew" after the pink shoelaces Eli wears in his tennis shoes in honor of an aunt who died from breast cancer, his family said.

Pima County Sheriff's deputies and detectives are looking into the sightings, said PCSD spokeswoman Deputy Dawn Barkman.

"We're still investigating as we get them. The family is very involved and we are involved as we get the sightings," Barkman said Friday.

Ruben Rabago said the response from the Tucson community has been "overwhelming."

"Tucson has embraced us. It is one of those unique places that no matter how large it grows, it still has its small town feel and sense of neighborly compassion," the family wrote in a Facebook post.

"Even one stranger asking, 'how can I help,' makes you want to break down and cry," Ruben Rabago said in an interview Friday.

People from around Tucson have been combing the areas of reported sightings and posting fliers at malls, parks and businesses.

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The family organized four search parties for Saturday morning. The Pink Shoelace Crew began at 9 a.m. at Alvernon and Skyline. At t 10 a.m., volunteers searched Rillito Park, then a search party combed Navajo Park at 11, and at noon, the crew searched areas of Northwest Tucson, according to the Facebook page.

The nights without their son are very difficult, Ruben Rabago said Wednesday.

"The nights are the hardest. You don't sleep — you worry constantly. You can't wait for the morning to come so you can start (looking) again," he said.

While Eli has the intellectual ability of an 11-year-old he can become easily frightened, Ruben Rabago said.

"He's a sweet spirit and definitely scared," he said.

Eli is afraid of the desert and desert animals, so Ruben Rabago believes his son would stay within the city.

He also can be frightened by strangers and his father asks that if anyone sees him to report it to call 911 right away and keep an eye on him, but to avoid approaching him or he may flee.

Ruben Rabago said Eli knows the family's phone number.

"I hope he'd approach someone to ask to use their phone," he said.

Eli Rabago is Hispanic, 5 feet 10 inches tall, and weighs 145 pounds. He was last seen wearing blue sweat pants or black shorts, a red shirt, a gray hoodie, and gray New Balance tennis shoes with pink shoelaces. He may be carrying a red bag with personal items and may be walking with a limp from a recently sprained ankle.

Anyone with information about him should call 911.

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Courtesy Rabago family

Eli Rabago