Parents of missing teen ID son from cellphone photo
Developmentally disabled 19-year-old last seen Feb. 26
The parents of missing Phoenix teenager Eli Rabago said Monday they have had confirmation that he is wandering Tucson's streets.
Martta and Ruben Rabago said they were contacted by a woman near Tucson Mall who said she saw the developmentally disabled 19-year-old on Monday.
The woman took a photo of Eli with her phone and sent it to the Rabagos, who confirmed it was their son. The Rabagos did not want the photo released to the media Monday.
The woman called Eli's name and he turned toward her, but became frightened, the couple said.
The Rabagos urge anyone who sees their son not to approach him or call his name because he may flee.
Eli Rabago was last seen by his family the morning of Feb. 26 at his grandparents' home near Skyline and Sunrise drives.
The Rabagos believe Eli has learned how to use the bus and that people on the street may be helping him stay one step ahead of being found.
The couple said Monday they believe Eli may be asserting his independence and that they are willing to offer it to him if he comes home. They also believe that Eli is now afraid because he believes he's in trouble for being missing.
"Eli is not in trouble. We are not mad at him. He needs to know he's not in trouble," Martta said.
"If he doesn't want to live with Mom and Dad, we can find a home for him," she said. "We will do as much as we can to get him independent, just not independent on the street."
Eli was reportedly spotted Sunday having breakfast at a Midtown church and later near Reid Park. Throughout last week, the family received reports of Eli being seen near First Avenue and Fort Lowell to areas north along First to Limberlost.
On Saturday, Martta and Ruben met with some of Tucson's "tunnel kids" — teenage runaways who take shelter in the city's tunnels in washes and storm drainage systems —in hopes of finding information on their son. The couple were so moved by what they saw and the teens they met that they returned Monday with food and water for the runaways, they said.
The family organized four search parties Saturday that began at 9 and ended in the afternoon. More than 200 people turned out to search and at least 2,000 flyers with information about Eli's disappearance were distributed, the Rabagos said.
The family calls their supporters the "Pink Shoelace Crew" after the pink shoelaces Eli wears in his tennis shoes in honor of an aunt who died from breast cancer, according to a post on the Rabago Family Support Page on Facebook.
The Rabagos believe that Eli may have taken off from his grandparents home because he was anxious about upcoming AIMS testing and worried about his grandfather, who is hospitalized with a terminal illness, Martta said.
The family is counting on Tucsonans to report any sightings immediately to police.
"Get our son back to us. We want him home," Martta said Sunday.
The Rabagos are grateful for all the help and support of the community.
"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.
"We know as time goes by, it becomes more difficult (to find Eli)," Marta said Sunday. "We're hopeful we'll find him in a few days.
Eli Rabago is Hispanic, 5 feet 10 inches tall, and weighs 145 pounds. He was wearing blue sweat pants when he left— but now may be wearing 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.