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Indiana woman opens up about going missing in San Diego

Lateche Norris, 20, reunited with her mother after weeks of searching in San Diego

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — An Indiana woman and her boyfriend, who caused an uproar when they went off the grid in San Diego for four weeks, are opening up to News 8 about what they've been going through.

In November, the woman’s mother flew out to San Diego to find her daughter. On Friday night, that search effort was successful. The mother reunited with Lateche Norris and her boyfriend, Joey Smith, at the downtown San Diego Library.

Credit: KFMB
Joey Smith, Lateche Norris, Amir & Cheryl Walker

The reason Norris, 20, and Smith, 25, did not call home for four weeks was because they were homeless, living in a makeshift shelter in Chula Vista.

“We had been staying in Chula Vista on the side of the highway where there's absolutely no people and no resources,” Norris told News 8.

“It’s very tough being homeless out here, figuring out how are we going to eat today, how are we going to just live day to day and survive,” said Norris.

Her mother, Cheryl Walker, was worried her daughter might be dead and had been posting fliers all over downtown San Diego.

Norris finally sent her mom a text message on the evening of Friday, Dec. 3, using a borrowed cell phone.

“I was just sitting there and I got a text and I saw it, and it just said, ‘Hey mama.  It's Teche.’  And honestly, I didn't even read the rest of it.  I just hit dial,” Walker said.

“I don't think she knew what to feel at that moment but there was a lot of tears, definitely happy that she didn't have to see the worst happen,” said Norris.

The couple said they never knew Walker was in San Diego, frantically searching for them. Norris was glad her mother did come.

“I am eternally grateful that my mother has the strength and the care and compassion and love for me to come and look for me, when she hasn't heard from her daughter in a month,” said Norris.

Part of the mother's concern was sparked by the couple’s history of domestic violence.

“I have never been a danger or a harm to Lateche.  I will always put her first and whatever she wants to do, whatever is going to be best for us as a couple I will do,” said Smith.

Additionally, the boyfriend had come to San Diego to enter rehab in Ramona, at a facility called Restoration Ranch.

Smith said he was asked to leave the rehab ranch after he had a seizure.

"He had a seizure, which he does have time to time. He had come down from drinking alcohol too quickly within a 24-hour period, and he wanted to get a grip. He came out here to go there, but because of the seizure it was determined it wasn't a fit. So, he was left homeless out here," said Norris.

Smith said the couple did have a plan to off the streets.

“We’ve been working very hard in order to get Medi-Cal, to get the free phones, all these things. We finally started to get this plan into action and the moment that plan came into action, we got in contact with Cheryl,” Smith told News 8.

Walker wanted to thank the community for helping in the search for her daughter.

“I’m grateful for everyone who's happy this didn't end in a tragedy because you're the people that matter. You're the good-hearted people and I thank you so much,” said Walker.

The young couple said they plan to fly back to Indiana. A relative has offered Smith a job in construction.

“I’ll be building playgrounds,” Smith said.

Despite the couple's difficulties, Norris said she wants to try and make it work.

“I want us obviously to come out of this. I want us to learn from our mistakes we've had and we continue to make, and be the people that we know we're supposed to be,” Smith said.

“This is someone that I did fall in love with and someone that I want to be able to spend my life with. If I can come out here and – being the strong person that I know I am and he as well – we can get our resources together and work hard enough to get ourselves out of this,” Norris said.

The family had raised about $7,200 through a Gofundme account.  They are waiting for funds to be released, so they can afford to fly back to Indiana.

“Right now, we're down to just a couple hundred dollars, and I'm not asking for money from anyone. I don't want it to be misconstrued. We're not asking for any charity.  People have given and they've been more than generous,” said Walker.

If you know someone who is experiencing homelessness in San Diego, call 2-1-1.  The San Diego Housing Commission can also provide financial assistance.

WATCH: Extended interview with Lateche Norris

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