Details of Disappearance
Yuan was smuggled into Washington D.C. from China, via Bangkok and Paris, on August 25, 1998. She used a genuine Thai passport to get into the country and posed as the niece of her smuggler, Chaichana Klaharn, a Thai citizen. They were caught at Dulles International Airport.
Yuan could not speak English or Thai. Through a Mandarin Chinese translator, she told immigration authorities she was from Fuzhou in the Chinese province of Fujian, and her parents had paid Klaharn a significant sum of money to take her to the United States. He said he was supposed to deliver Yuan to a hotel in Washington D.C.
Klaharn pleaded guilty to passport fraud in September 1998 and was sentenced to four months in jail. Yuan was sent to live with a foster family in the 4700 block of Barnum Lane in Alexandria, Virginia, while authorities decided what to do with her. At first she stayed at home with a Mandarin-speaking babysitter.
After three weeks she was enrolled in the seventh grade at Holmes Middle School, where she was the only Mandarin-speaking student. She would typically take the school bus home with one of her foster sisters, arriving home at 3:10 p.m. On the day of her disappearance, however, she took the bus home alone.
Yuan was last seen exiting a Fairfax County school bus at approximately 3:00 p.m. on October 21, 1998. The bus was near Lincolnia Road and Deming Avenue in the Lincolnia area of Virginia at the time. She supposed to take a cab to a doctor's appointment at 3:30 p.m., but she wasn't there when the cab arrived and never showed up for her appointment. She never returned to her foster home and has not been heard from again.
An extensive search of the area produced no clues as to Yuan's whereabouts. She was not familiar with the neighborhood at the time of her disappearance. Her foster family didn't speak Mandarin and, while they stated Yuan appeared to be intelligent and content with her situation, they admitted they didn't know her very well and couldn't guess whether she'd run away or not. She had lived with the family for only six weeks by the time of her disappearance.
Yuan's immediate family resides in China. She told immigration officials she was twelve years old, but it's possible that she was as old as fifteen. In November 2008, ten years after her disappearance, investigators said they thought Yuan could be in the Kansas City, Missouri area. This information was never confirmed, however.
Police believe Yuan either ran away to avoid potential deportation to China, or she was abducted, possibly by one of the people who smuggled her into the country. If the latter is the case, Yuan may be being forced to work for her abductor(s). Her case remains unsolved.