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2 women missing in Oklahoma, investigators believe they are ‘in danger’

Veronica Butler (L) and Jilian Kelley (R) have been declared missing under "suspicious" circumstances after the car they were driving in was found abandoned in rural Oklahoma. OSBI / Facebook

Oklahoma authorities are searching for two women whose empty car was found in a rural area of the state, calling their disappearance “suspicious.”

Veronica Butler, 27, and Jilian Kelley, 39, were “travelling together to pick up children” on the weekend but “never made it to the pickup location,” the Texas County Sheriff’s Office shared on Saturday, adding that the vehicle they were driving in was found abandoned on the side of the road near the Kansas border.

The local sheriff’s office located the vehicle, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSMI) spokesperson Hunter McKee told ABC News.

“There’s every reason to believe that they could be in danger,” McKee said. “It was a very rural area. They’re nowhere to be found…. The fact that we’ve had no contact with them for this long.”

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Speaking to NBC News, McKee added that there are no suspects in the investigation, and no threats against the women have been reported.

Both women are mothers and are connected to churches in the Hugoton, Kansas, area. Kelley is the secretary at Hugoton First Christian Church, and her husband serves as the church’s pastor. He is set to become the new minister at Willow Christian Church in Indianola, Neb., the McCook Gazette reports.

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On Easter Sunday, Willow Christian Church asked its parishioners to “please, please be in prayer for these women.”

“God please bring these women home to their families that are so worried about them,” the church pleaded in a Facebook post.

Butler’s pastor, Tim Singer, with the Hugoton Assembly of God, told ABC News the two women are “acquaintances” and that they had been travelling to pick up Butler’s children to attend a birthday party when they went missing.

Butler’s stepmother, Guadalupe Torres, and father, Clinton Butler, separately told NBC News their daughter had been engaged in a heated custody dispute.

Court records show a custody case was opened in late March 2015 and closed nearly a month later.

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On Tuesday, the local school district announced schools would operate in lockdown as the search for the missing women continued.

“Out of an abundance of caution, a decision was made by the administration to operate in a locked-down status for Tuesday, April 2, 2024. Given the unknown nature of the missing persons incident, the close proximity of the event to the school and parental concerns, we felt that it was in our students’ best interest to lock down the school for the day,” Yarbrough Schools superintendent Jim Wiggin said in a statement, adding that there was no threat made to the school district and it was a “purely a safety-first decision.”

Butler has several tattoos, including a Chinese character on her left forearm and a sunflower on her left shoulder. Kelley has a butterfly tattooed on her left forearm, police say.

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Butler is five feet four inches tall with red hair and green eyes and was last seen wearing a blue short-sleeve shirt, denim shorts and slip-on shoes. Kelley has brown hair and blue eyes, and was last seen wearing whitewashed blue jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and tan-coloured shoes.

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