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News that the group was found safely came as Mr. Whitmore was briefing reporters on the ongoing search.

He had just answered a question about Ms. Chicas‘ relationship with her former church when a deputy pulled him aside and whispered in his ear. Relief washed over his face as he struggled not to grin.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we just found them,” he said, allowing his face to break into a smile. “They are alive and well.”

Associated Press writers contributing to this report include Christopher Weber and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles and Ana Elena Azpurua in New York.