By Ted Siefer
CONWAY N.H. (Reuters) - Elation over the sudden return of a teenager who went missing for nine months from a small town in New Hampshire's White Mountains is giving way to critical questions from residents about why and how she had vanished.
Abigail Hernandez, 15, was reported missing in Conway on Oct. 9 after she didn't return home from high school, prompting a public campaign that drew national headlines. Authorities announced her return on Monday, noting the "facts and circumstances" of her disappearance are under investigation.
At Banners Restaurant, a popular local eatery, Hernandez's return was a common topic of conversation. Jesse Shackford, 66, said it was wonderful news she was home, but he added that it was unclear if she had been abducted or left on purpose.
"All of the things that had to be done, and all the time and money spent ... if it was avoidable, then that's sad," he said.
State and local police, with assistance from the FBI, launched a wide search after Hernandez's disappearance, and there was an outpouring of support in Conway, with several fund-raisers held to benefit the family.
On Thursday, the state attorney general's office released a sketch of a man who was said to have picked up Hernandez in October. He was described as short, slightly overweight and to have been driving a blue pickup truck.
The statement noted that it is not clear whether the man took Hernandez "against her will, enticed her away, detained her or concealed her whereabouts for the last nine months."
Hernandez's family has not spoken publicly since her return.
On Friday, Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said she could not say whether the family was cooperating with the investigation. "I'm not going to characterize any witness ... with respect to their cooperation," she said.
Questions in town mirrored a surge in speculative posts on the Facebook page "Bring Abby Home."
Administrators of the page wrote: "While we appreciate the desire for answers, this is still very much an ongoing law enforcement investigation and no details can be released that could jeopardize the integrity of their work."
(Reporting by Ted Siefer; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Eric Beech)