Keith Papini — the husband of Redding, California, woman Sherri Papini reported missing on November 2 and miraculously found on Thanksgiving — talked exclusively with 20/20’s Matt Gutman on the Friday, December 2, episode, giving more heart-wrenching details of his wife returning home, badly beaten and branded.
Here are seven things we learned from the newsmagazine’s report with Keith.
1. The family reunion was a cuddle group hug on the ground with Keith and Sherri with their two kids, Tyler, 4, and Violet, 2.
When mom returned home late last week, Keith said letting Tyler and Violet know mom was back was an unbelievably feel-good moment.
“[Tyler] got the biggest grin and started yelling, like, ‘Where is she?’ He just sprinted 100 mph,” Keith said. “My wife walks in very emotional and crying.… Violet said, ‘Mommy!’ and just took off running.… We all went to the ground for a big family hug. It makes me smile. We’re back. We’re whole.”
2. The disappearance investigation is ongoing — and may just be starting.
“That’s the mystery — why,” Keith said in the interview, when asked the motive for why someone would take and brutalize his wife, 34. “I don’t have the answer, and I can’t explain it.”
Police said the investigation was just beginning with Sherri’s reappearance. It is unclear whether the attack was random or targeted, and whether the disappearance was indeed an abduction or something else.
3. Keith says he’s unbothered by suggestions he’s involved in a hoax.
Skepticism of the validity of Keith’s story — that Sherri was not abducted, and that he had a role — has been brought up extensively in media coverage. When asked about the doubts, Keith, who was ruled out by police as a suspect, said, “I think these people take cheap shots, no matter what.”
4. Police think part of the crime scene may have been intentionally placed there.
The earphones tangled around Sherri’s blonde long hair, and its placement on the ground with the music player, appeared as though they could have been placed there, an investigating officer told 20/20. So even though Keith may have been cleared as a suspect, there remains a possibility the abduction didn’t happen as Sherri described.
Knowledge of what happened to Sherri — two Hispanic women in a dark SUV kidnapped the woman while she was out jogging — appears to have come mostly from one person: Sherri. “I knew she was taken,” Keith said in the interview. “But you’re not going to come and say it was kidnapping.”
5. Sherri and family are staying away from home, and she’s suffering psychologically.
To help the healing, Sherri, Keith and their two kids have moved from their Redding home since her return. “We’ll need someone who can help her through that from a professional standpoint,” Keith said as to how Sherri will need to adjust.
6. Sherri’s physical condition may have been worse than imagined.
There’s no telling what to expect when someone is recovered after being badly beaten and branded — but in Sherri’s case, Keith had to describe in his own words the circumstances to get a clear picture. “One of the officers braced me,” Keith recalls. “‘She’s alive. You’ve just got to be happy.'”
Keith describes seeing his wife for the first time in the hospital, “Her poor face. I just hugged her.… I got nauseated just looking at her. It was so hard for me to see her like that.… The bruises were just intense, the bumps from getting kicked and whatever else.” In addition, her hair was cut, and a branding, which Keith wouldn’t describe other than it wasn’t on her face, was inflicted.
7. The suspects’ descriptions
Sherri has described the perpetrators in her disappearance as two Hispanic women. She claims they spoke mostly Spanish, had their faces covered and had weapons. One supposedly had long curly hair with a heavy accent and pierced ears, and the other had straight black hair with green color and thick eyebrows. Keith told a story on 20/20 of a frightened Sherri rocking a piece of cloth like a baby while imprisoned.
Tell Us: What did you think of the interview?
20/20 airs on ABC Fridays at 10 p.m. ET.
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