UNION COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A convicted sex offender has been charged with numerous offenses after he convinced a 16-year-old girl from Monroe to run away with him, according to the Monroe Police Department.

Lauren Heath, who had been missing since Friday, Oct. 13, and Christopher James Porter, 30, were located by law enforcement in a Lowe’s parking lot off I-44 in Kirkwood, Missouri.

Monroe Police said officers observed what they determined was a ‘suspicious vehicle’ and made contact with the driver, identified as Porter. They said Lauren was in the passenger seat.

Lauren was able to provide her birth certificate to authorities and her mother’s phone number, which helped police get her in contact with her parents.

Heath was last captured on Ring camera footage on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, leaving her family home in Monroe around 4 p.m. before she was reported missing, police said.

Lauren’s parents had emphasized that her sudden disappearance “was highly uncharacteristic of her, especially since she was eagerly looking forward to her high school homecoming event that weekend.” Her family was worried, at that time, that Lauren may have been lured away. 

“Our family is in shambles because she’s a major part of who we are. Our hearts are broken, and we will never stop looking for her. We just want her to come home,” Lauren’s father, Derrick Heath, had said before Lauren was located on Wednesday, Oct. 25.

Monroe Police announced Wednesday evening that Lauren has been located in Missouri.

“She is safe and is being reunited with her family,” Monroe Police said. “We ask that you please respect Ms. Heath and her family as they process the events of the past 12 days and allow them the space and privacy needed to begin to heal and recover from this experience.”

Monroe Police confirmed Thursday that Lauren met Porter on a social media app. Authorities said Porter, a convicted sex offender, “took advantage of comments made by Heath, about stress and wanting to run away and ultimately convinced her to do so, traveling all the way from Oklahoma to Monroe to pick her up.”

Porter has been charged with numerous offenses in Missouri at this time, and is expected to face more charges as the investigation continues, police said.

Photo: Christopher Porter, St Louis County Justice Center

Lauren’s parents were able to fly to Missouri Wednesday night where they were reunited with their daughter and will most likely return to their home later on Thursday, police said.

Porter was booked into the St. Louis County Justice Center at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25.

This continues to be an active, ongoing investigation.