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Story Update: (6/30/99) Godwin High School senior Erin Binford who disappeared five days before graduation is back home.

Vanished With A Trace

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UPDATE 6/30/99 - Erin Binford returned home June 28, after a family she was staying with in New York called her mother after learning Erin was a runaway. In an interview with Style Weekly, Erin says she ran away with a 15-year-old boy because she didn't think she was going to graduate high school and was embarrassed.

"I know I didn't make the right decision. It was a hard life to live," she says. Her mother is relieved and grateful Erin is OK.

For more on this story, read Style Weekly's July 6 issue.

Erin was smiling.

Almost two weeks to the day after his 17-year-old daughter disappeared, after constantly worrying that she had been abducted or possibly worse, Garnett Binford watched on a bank security-camera video as Erin smiled and took out money from an automatic teller machine, on her way to who knows where with a man her friends and family don't recognize sitting in the passenger seat of her mother's car.

Now her father's not sure what to think.

Erin Kristin Binford vanished Thursday, June 10, five days before she was to graduate from Godwin High School.

That day, following her final exam, Erin and a girlfriend headed to Pony Pasture. It was a frequent hangout for Erin and her friends, who say they would sometimes skip school to meet there.

While there, Erin met and left with two dark-complexioned young men who were possibly Hispanic, says Erin's mother, Toni Zaremski, and Henrico police officers, who have spoken to the friend.

About 10 p.m. that night, Erin returned to the friend's house to ask to borrow a skirt, Zaremski and police say. Two young men were waiting in her mother's car, a gold 1989 Honda Accord LX with the license plate TONI RN. According to the friend's account, Erin said she was taking the two home and then she was heading home herself.

It's the last time any of her friends or family have heard from her.

Since then, Zaremski, who works as a nurse at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center, and her ex-husband, Binford, a cab driver, have been searching for answers. They've passed out flyers at her favorite far West End hangouts like SkateNation and Shorty's Country Convenience Store and along West Broad Street, where she liked to cruise. They've questioned friends, called police with leads, and asked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for help.

"She's very impulsive, but I just can't see her missing graduation," says her mother, choking back tears. "It just doesn't figure for Erin to disassociate herself from everybody and miss graduation and just vanish. ... I'm really terrified because nobody's heard from her."

Erin bought a dress for graduation. Her cap and gown were in the car with her. She and her mother had mailed out invitations for a graduation party at her grandmother's house for the day after graduation. Instead, her mother drove to Godwin and picked up Erin's diploma that day.

For the last nine months, Erin has worked as a cashier at the Food Lion at 10440 Ridgefield Parkway. She was supposed to work June 11, but never phoned to say she wouldn't be coming in. Her supervisor, Leslie Doyle, says Erin "was probably our best cashier. ... She was always here when she was supposed to be."

In fact, Erin was usually 15 minutes early and often stayed two to three hours after closing to talk with her friends. She was a friendly girl who only got in trouble for frequently calling her mother to chat.

Erin was in line for a promotion to work in the store's office, and was hoping to work at the store full-time after graduation, Doyle says, adding, "I definitely don't think she'd run away." Customers at the store frequently ask if there's any news about Erin, she says.

They're not the only ones worrying. Erin's best friend and next-door neighbor, Myca Bruno, a 17-year-old rising senior at Godwin, says it's not like Erin, a friendly, sociable girl, to miss her graduation.

Erin wears a teal-colored pager everywhere she goes and checks it obsessively, returning calls as soon as she gets them, Myca says. It blares with Erin's favorite rap music when you call it. As soon as she learned Erin was missing, Myca says she began paging Erin and leaving voice-mail messages 10 times a day. Erin never returned any of the calls. Eventually, Myca says, she gave up.

"I was thinking optimistic in the beginning," Myca says sadly. "As more and more time went by and the more things I learn, sometimes I think the next time I see her is going to be at her funeral."

Still, there's lots of evidence pointing to Erin running away, which is what Henrico police believe has happened. When she was 14, Erin ran away to a friend's house for four days, hiding in the attic. She and the friend were caught by a policeman when they sneaked out to walk to a 7-11.

Command Sgt. Mike Wade of the Henrico Division of Police says they have learned that shortly before Erin disappeared, she told a Brink's armored-car driver at Food Lion that she was going to be leaving and he wouldn't be seeing her for a long time.

Also, Erin was worried about passing her English and Government exams and not being able to graduate, her friends and family say. She had been taking medication for depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and she and her mother had been having some small fights over typical teen stuff, but nothing major, her friends and her mother say.

Wade also points out that if Erin had been worried about the men she was riding with, she could have alerted her friend when she borrowed the skirt, while the young men waited in the car.

The most compelling evidence pointing to Erin's whereabouts is a series of ATM withdrawals from Erin's savings account. At 5:56 a.m. on June 11, Erin took out about $30 from an ATM near the intersection of Patterson Avenue and Gayton Road. Another transaction was registered about two hours later for $60 at an ATM in the Washington D.C./Maryland area. Around 10 a.m. the following day, someone took out another $60 from the account in New York City.

Erin's never driven farther than Williamsburg, her mother says, and has never visited New York and doesn't know anyone there. Erin's parents asked for the bank records and were told by a security officer at Wachovia that Erin was smiling and laughing on the videotape of the withdrawal.

However, when Wachovia released still frames from the video to the family, Erin was close-mouthed and serious-looking. Her friends and family thought she looked scared and upset. What's more, no one recognized the young man visible in the car's passenger seat.

But when her father watched the videotape days later, he agreed that Erin looked happy. They're still waiting on film from the Washington D.C. ATM and have been told that the machine in New York was not equipped with a camera.

"It doesn't sound like she wants to come back," sobs her mother, who is now more convinced that Erin ran away. However, she's worried that her daughter is now virtually penniless on the streets of New York, or worse, started out running away on a lark and met up with foul play. She's especially troubled by the length of time that has gone by with no word from Erin, not even to her friends.

"Something still doesn't look right to me," says Erin's father, Garnett Binford. "Until I can see who took the money out in Maryland, I won't be convinced she's just a runaway. I still have my doubts.

"I guess the police are thinking she's a runaway until they have any evidence to the contrary. Well, the evidence lies in the videotape from Maryland. Maybe she'll be laughing in that one, too, but until I see that, I'm not going to come to any

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