Anu Solanki wanted out of her marriage, so the 24-year-old met a male friend at a forest preserve on Christmas Eve, jumped into his car and fled for what she hoped would be a new life in Southern California.
Only days later, she told investigators, did she learn that her disappearance had made headlines and prompted a costly search by authorities, who had feared that Solanki might have drowned in a river.
"She expressed regret and embarrassment," Cook County sheriff's spokesman Bill Cunningham said Saturday, a day after Solanki flew back to Chicago from Los Angeles and spoke to investigators for several hours. "She claims she in no way meant to deceive people into thinking she fell into the Des Plaines River."
Authorities spent about $250,000 on their search, which included divers and a helicopter. Her family also handed out flyers with Solanki's picture.
"Obviously we're upset that so many individuals have had to work on this for so many days and that so many resources were spent on it," Cunningham said. "But she maintained she had no idea it would create the kind of reaction it did."
Police will meet with prosecutors soon to determine if Solanki broke any laws, but Cunningham declined to say what charges she could possibly face.
"The first thing you'd think of is making a false report. But she didn't make a false report," he said. "It's not a crime to deceive your husband and family."
Husband feared her dead
Earlier in the week, Solanki's husband, Dignesh Solanki, had said that his wife may have been placing a religious statue in the river on the day she went missing. Authorities had feared she slipped into the water and drowned.
The statue of the deity Ganesh, revered as the Hindu god of good fortune and wisdom, played a role in the couple's Hindu marriage ceremony. It had broken and a religious leader told them that placing it in the water would ward off bad luck.
The discovery of a car Solanki drove to work the day she vanished heightened suspicions. The doors were open and the keys inside.
She told investigators she left the car because it belonged to her husband.
"She didn't want to have any of his possessions and wanted to completely break with him," Cunningham said. "She indicated that she was not a victim of abuse in their relationship. She just stated she regretted getting married and wanted out of the marriage."
A message left Saturday for Solanki's husband was not returned.
From Chicago to California with Jani
The Solankis were born in India and were married Oct. 6, 2006. They held a second Hindu wedding on May 6 in New Jersey.
Cunningham said investigators inquired about whether their marriage was arranged, but the answer was not clear.
Anu Solanki, who spent Saturday night at a Chicago-area hotel, claimed that she and the 23-year-old man who drove her to California, Karan C. Jani, were close friends and not romantically involved, Cunningham said. They had known each other about a year.
It was Jani who first saw a report about the search for Solanki on a Web site Thursday. He then encouraged her to contact her family.
By the time authorities learned Friday that Solanki had been in touch with relatives, they had already concluded by looking at cell-phone records that she was alive.