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Mother of missing California woman Samantha Tomlinson pleads for her safe return as search continues into second week

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to Samantha’s safe return.

Earlier this month, 37-year-old Samantha Tomlinson put her beloved German Shepard, Atlas, in his crate at her home in Fresno, told her roommate she was going to Costco to return a purchase and that she’d be back later.

But she didn’t return home later that day to walk Atlas. And when she still hasn’t returned home the next day, her roommate called Samantha’s family in a panic and then called the police to file a missing persons report.

“It just doesn’t make any sense… for her to just put Atlas in a crate and not come home,” Samantha’s mother, Christie, told Dateline. “She’s an animal lover and always takes good care of her pets. She also has a horse and three cats. Those are her kids.”

Nearly two weeks later, Samantha’s worried family and friends are still desperately searching the state, from the mountains to the coast. But there has been no trace of Samantha or the car she was driving that day she went to Costco.

Christie said that she believes her daughter was only running out for a quick errand, but that something possibly happened to her before she could return home.

Lieutenant Jon Papaleo with the Fresno Police Department told Dateline that detectives are doing everything they can to find Samantha, following every tip and lead they receive. He added that at this time there is nothing to indicate foul play.

“We’re hoping for the best,” Lt. Papaleo said Monday. “Somebody out there could have seen her, or her car, in the past week or so. And that could be the missing puzzle piece we need.”

According to Lt. Papaleo, police have two separate security videos that show Samantha on the day she went missing – December 3, 2021. After leaving her home in Fresno, Samantha is shown on video meeting up with an unidentified person she met on the OfferUp app to sell a weight set. Lieutenant Papaleo confirmed that the transaction went smoothly.

In the second security video, Samantha makes it to her next stop, the Costco on Blackstone at Herndon in Fresno. She is seen on camera checking out and leaving the parking lot in her 2002 Silver Honda Civic with California license plates: 6YQB398.

Lieutenant Papaleo told Dateline it’s after Samantha leaves the store that the trail goes cold. He added that her phone has not been operational since that time and there has been no activity on her bank account or credit cards.

Samantha’s mother, Christie, told Dateline that her daughter works for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture, is an avid hiker who loves being outdoors in nature. But when she went missing that day, Samantha wasn’t dressed for the outdoors and all of her hiking gear was found at home.

“She likes her space, especially when something is bothering her,” Christie said. “And she loves the mountains. But something isn’t right this time. She usually takes her dog with her.”

After being given information about Samantha’s love of the outdoors, especially the mountains, police requested assistance from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office and the Search and Rescue team, Forest Service Rangers and the California Highway Patrol have checked spots within the Sierra and Sequoia National Parks that Samantha is known to visit.

Samantha’s mother told Dateline that her friends have traveled to the area to help search, along with passing out fliers in the area, as well as sharing online.

On Monday morning, Christie spoke to Dateline as she was preparing to head out to search another spot Samantha loves -- the coast.

“She loves to watch for orcas in the water,” her mother said, as she drank her morning coffee out of Samantha’s “Orca” mug. “The ocean always gave her peace. And now I feel like it’s pulling me there to look for her.”

Christie told Dateline that she’ll keep looking, no matter how long it takes.

Samantha Tomlinson

“We’re desperately looking for you, Samantha,” she said in one last plea. “So many people are searching. We just want you back safe.”

Samantha is described as being 5’5” and weighs 130 lbs. She has black hair and blue eyes. She has several tattoos, including a black paw print with purple flowers under left elbow, the words “Be Free” with blackbirds on her right forearm, the words “Adventure Awaits” with mountains on her left forearm, and a semicolon below her left ear.

Anyone with information on Samantha’s whereabouts, or her the location of her car, is asked to call the Fresno Police Department at 559-621-7000 or the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office at 559-600-3111. The police case reference number is 21-66427.