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VULNERABLE #MISSING: Evangelina Reynolds, 24 - New Castle County, DELAWARE

Family, friends and police are appealing for tips to find a 24-year-old woman, a Special Olympics Delaware athlete with an intellectual disability, who has been missing for nearly six weeks.
Evangelina Reynolds, also known by the nicknames of Vangelina and Vangie, was reported missing April 1 from her home in the first block of Monticello Boulevard in Jefferson Farms neighborhood near New Castle.
Her heartsick grandfather, retired jockey Russell Reynolds, is offering a $200 cash reward for information leading to her return.
"I've tried everything I can think of," said Reynolds, who has spent many days since she went missing making phone calls, putting up posters and trying to recruit help to find her. "I don't know what else to do."
His greatest fear is that his first-born grandchild – with an innocent, trusting nature and the capacities of someone half her age – may have been lured from home by an online predator.
That's a fear shared by his daughter, Gypsy Thomas, with whom his granddaughter lives.
Thomas last saw her daughter about 5:50 p.m. on April 1 before their regular Wednesday night routine of having dinner and going to church.
As usual, her daughter had taken out her beloved dogs, Gizmo, a brown long-hair chihuahua she has had since he was a puppy, and Luna, a female pit bull that is a younger and more-recent addition to the family.
Then her daughter dressed for church: A black sweater, blue jeans, black shoes and a green Eagles winter jacket.
"She had just gotten ready to go to church and I was fiddling in the kitchen before dinner," she said. "I thought she went to her bedroom."
But when Thomas went to get her daughter, she couldn't find her – anywhere.
Thomas' son, Brandon, 20, and his friends also searched, as did other family and friends.
That night, Thomas called police and reported her missing.
The house phone was missing, Thomas said, so they initially figured she had taken it with her as she sometimes did when she walked outside.
"But two days after," she said, "the next door neighbor found our phone near their driveway."
Gold medal swimmer
For more than a decade, Vangelina Reynolds has been an athlete in Special Olympics Delaware, spokesman Jon Buzby said.
She regularly competes for its Wilmington Wizards group in the sports of soccer, bowling, basketball, volleyball and aquatics, Buzby said.
"She also attends our summer camp at Camp Barnes," the state police camp facility in the Frankford area of Sussex County, he said.
She and her swim teammates went last summer to the USA Games in Princeton, New Jersey, where she won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter backstroke, Buzby said.
Special Olympics Delaware head swimming coach Ann Benevento, who has known Reynolds since her teen years, describes her as "a nice kid ... a little quiet and conservative."
 
"Initially, she just followed along, but when she found her niche in the backstroke – she has an amazing backstroke – that really pumped her up and she went all gung-ho," Benevento said.
"She has some great skills and she really developed her work ethic," she added. "She really pushed herself over and over to get better."
She was "always right on time" for swim practice at the Walnut Street YMCA, Benevento said.
When swimmers divided into two groups, each to swim an hour, Benevento said, "she always wanted to just keep swimming, do double practice."
Being in Special Olympics has been "a great experience for her," her coach said.
"The fact that she is missing is very upsetting."
Looking for leads
Her grandfather spent days putting up posters on buses because he knows his granddaughter has ridden them.
He pulled together $200 for a reward, has spent uncounted hours on the phone, trying to rustle up any leads.
He figures maybe the Internet holds some clues, but concedes that's not his forté.
Despite his granddaughter's challenges, he said, "Vangie's good on the computer, chatting and texts – all that."
With the maturity and abilities of someone less than half her age, he said, her enjoyment of online chatting already led to a bad decision this year.
About two months ago, he said, "she went to see a boy she met online. He's also handicapped."
"They found her somewhere in Wilmington and we got her back," he said.
Vangelina's mother looks at that incident as Vangelina following an impulse like a preteen excited to meet a new boy – a quick run from home, but thankfully not a dangerous one.
She tried to prevent any recurrence or escalation.
After that, Thomas' father said, "her mother took her cellphone away from her. She had an iPod but the screen was broken and they didn't think it worked. ... Maybe it did."
That's the only way he can figure out how she got in contact with anyone else that would want her to leave home, go see him, perhaps lured her for all the wrong reasons.
Detective Tom Purse, New Castle County Police Department's missing persons specialist, steers away from hypothesizing any worst-case scenario.
He focuses instead on the investigation, on finding leads – on finding her.
Investigators immediately checked out the boy or young man she went to meet in Wilmington, he said, noting they learned she got to the city "with help from her old boyfriend."
"We have interviewed him, been to his house several times," Purse said. "He's been cooperative and his family has been cooperative."
Continuing to work the missing-persons case on a daily basis, he said, "We're really investigating all different avenues.
"We've spoken to all of her friends and relatives. ... We've canvassed her street and her neighborhood," he said.
New Castle County Police Department issued a Gold Alert on April 2, seeking public tips to locate Vangelina Reynolds, but got no successful leads.
After her mother last talked to her before dinner and church the evening of April 1, Purse said, "no one has heard from her since."
The longer she remains missing, he said, the greater the concern for her safety.
'Sweet and caring child'
Her mother fights tears. And she loses – over and over.
How is she holding up? "One day at a time," she says.
Her tears ebb as she tries to think of anything that might help find her daughter, that might help someone who doesn't know her to be able to spot her in a crowd.
"Vangie always carries some kind of purse," she said. "I know she has a purse with her."
Her daughter has a lot of purses, though – a lot – and she can't figure out which one is missing or what else she may have taken.
"She has her ID," she says. "I haven't found that."
Thomas – who has legal guardianship of her daughter – does know what she doesn't have.
She has no money, no credit cards, no driver's license, no ability to discern between those who are trustworthy and those who are not.
Although born with an intellectual disability, Vangie Reynolds graduated from high school, proud to join her class at William Penn High near New Castle for the ceremony.
"She went to the prom that year, too," her mother said.
She worries that strangers might take advantage of her daughter because "she is just such a sweet and caring child."
In her absence, her mother said, there has been much heartbreak for the whole family, as well as her daughter's best buddy for the last 13 years.
"Gizmo passed two weeks after she disappeared," she said.
She paused, then added, "I think he died of a broken heart."
Some days, she feels like she will do the same thing.
MISSING WOMAN
New Castle County police ask anyone with information on the whereabouts of Evangelina Reynolds, 24, of the New Castle area to call them at (302) 573-2800 or give tips through the police department's Facebook page, using its app available for free download for all iPhone and Android smartphones, or to Delaware Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333 and www.tipsubmit.com.
Reynolds – whose nicknames are Vangelina and Vangie – has been missing since April 1, when she was discovered missing from her home near New Castle. Reynolds, who has an intellectual disability, needs daily medication that was left at her home, county police said.
She wears glasses with gold metal frames and is described as 5 feet tall, 124 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair with bangs and the rest extending below her shoulders.
She has scars on her left leg from surgery and walks with a limp but does not use a cane or other disability-assistance devices.
She last was seen wearing a black sweater, blue jeans, black shoes a green Eagles winter jacket.

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