Teen girl fled U.S. willingly with older man, Allentown police say

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This combination of photos provided by the Allentown, Pa., Police Department shows, from left, Amy Yu and Kevin Esterly.

Amy Yu was on a plane to Cancun with a 45-year-old married man at the same time the mother of the high school sophomore was filing a missing persons report with Allentown police, police confirmed at a Friday news conference.

Yu left willingly, Allentown police said, failing to get on a school bus the morning of March 5, and meeting up with Kevin Esterly, who took her to Philadelphia International Airport. From there, they caught a one-way flight into Mexico, both of them taking money that police said they had stolen from their families.

The teen and married man have been missing for 11 days in a case that has captivated the Lehigh Valley and beyond, and Allentown police held the news conference partly to provide new details of how they fled the country and to plead for Yu to return home to her family.

“Amy, if you are uncertain about how to come home or who to go to, we encourage you to go to a law enforcement officer in Mexico, perhaps a resort staff member or perhaps you could email, text, or contact your mother somehow on social media and we will do everything we can to get you reunited with your family as quickly as possible,” Police Captain Bill Lake said.

Also, for the first time since her husband went missing, Esterly’s wife gave a statement to the Morning Call on Friday, also pleading for the teen and Kevin Esterly to return home from Mexico. Through a lawyer, Stacey Esterly said she and her husband had been fighting constantly since the summer over his relationship with Yu.

The news conference came a day after Mexican authorities issued an Amber Alert saying Yu, a 16-year-old Allentown girl, and Kevin Esterly may be traveling through Mexico and she “may be a victim of crime.”

Allentown police issued a missing, and possibly endangered, persons alert for the couple on March 7. By then, Yu and Esterly had already fled the country. Friday was the first time Allentown police confirmed the pair were in Mexico and said they had kept that information from the public because they believed Esterly and Yu were monitoring media back home.

Yu was reported missing by her mother at 6:35 p.m. on March 5 when the teen did not return home from her charter school in Hanover Township, Northampton County. Yu’s mother dropped her off at a bus stop, but police learned she never got on the school bus.

Lake said Allentown police had initially started investigating with Colonial Regional police, who cover that area.

Two days later, Esterly was reported missing, and possibly endangered, by one of his relatives, he said. During the investigation that night, police discovered Esterly had bought one-way plane tickets for him and the teen at the same time Yu’s mother had reported her missing, Lake said. Their flight took them from Philadelphia to Dallas and then to Cancun, Lake said.

Police issued a felony arrest warrant for Esterly that night, charging him with interference of the custody of a child.

Police say they have received a number of tips about the investigation and are focusing their attention on Esterly’s and Yu’s travels in Mexico.

The Amber Alert in Mexico, posted Thursday night on Twitter, says 16-year-old Yu could be in danger from Esterly, who police say had a “secretive relationship” with the girl.

“From investigations it seems she is traveling on national territory in the company of Kevin Esterly,” Amber Alert Mexico says in its tweet. “It is believed that the integrity of the teenager is in danger and she may be a victim of crime.”

Yu and Esterly were last seen locally at 7:09 a.m. March 5 at 15th and Allen Streets in Allentown. Their disappearance came less than a month after authorities were notified the two were meeting and communicating without the knowledge of the girl’s mother.

Esterly, a concrete contractor from Lowhill Township who has a history of being sued for shady business practices, has a wife and four daughters.

He and his family had known Yu since she was about 7 years old, meeting at church about eight or nine years ago, according to attorney John Waldron, representing Esterly’s wife. Yu lived in Allentown with her mother and younger brother and had been apart from her father, who lives in China, since she was a child, her mother said.

As Yu grew older, the Esterlys often included Yu on vacations with their daughters, almost treating her like a “fifth daughter.” Yu eventually became best friends with Esterly’s eldest daughter, Waldron said.

The relationship is documented in vacation photos Esterly posted on his Facebook page from 2014 to 2015, showing Yu and Esterly’s daughters at beaches, lakes and amusement parks. In one Facebook video, Esterly teases Yu, who is riding a roller-coaster for the first time. In the nearly two-minute clip, the frightened girl screams and hugs Esterly’s arm as the ride speeds through the track.

The relationship took a turn over the summer, Waldron said.

“Kevin indicated that he was attempting to be her dad, a father figure to Amy,” Waldron said. “Stacey did not believe it to be merely a father-daughter relationship and that’s why there were fights. They were fighting every day over Amy.”

During an interview this week, the teen’s mother, Miu Luu, said she had been suspicious of Esterly’s relationship with her daughter even before she discovered on Feb. 9 that he had posed as Yu’s stepfather and signed her out of school 10 times starting in November.

When she found out that Esterly had signed her daughter out of Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School, Luu said, she was told by school officials how to contact police and possibly file a restraining order against Esterly. She also said she took her daughter’s cellphone from her and discovered several “inappropriate” text messages between the girl and Esterly.

Luu said that she confronted Esterly and he repeatedly apologized to her and said he would never do it again, but that when she informed him that police would be investigating, he got mad.

In a group text that day, which included Luu and Esterly’s wife, Kevin Esterly called the allegation of any improper relationship with the girl “lies and speculation.”

The following day, Esterly and his wife were cited with harassment during an argument at their home because he wouldn’t allow her to see his Facebook page.

On Feb. 15, Luu called police to her Allentown home on North 18th Street to report a problem with her daughter, according to court records. The Esterlys were at the residence and officers told them to stay away from the teen’s home, according to court records.

Waldron said Stacey Esterly was never aware that her husband had been signing out the teen and once she did, it escalated their fighting.

“Thing is there were fights all the time because Kevin didn’t have time for Stacey or his own children,” he said. “It was a constant struggle that Stacey was living with and Amy’s mom was living with, and that’s why this harassment episode came up because they were trying to deal with this.

“He couldn’t help himself, he couldn’t stop.”

Waldron said Esterly lost his job over his obsession with Yu and had been unemployed for a month.

While splitting time with his family, Esterly also rented an apartment in Allentown, about four blocks from Yu’s family’s home. Court records show that Esterly was renting a $650-a-month apartment in downtown Allentown. On Tuesday, citing “police presence” at the apartment, Esterly’s landlord filed to evict him, court records show.

Waldron said Stacey Esterly contacted him last week because she had been inundated by media calls, some from international organizations.

“This incident has disrupted her family with her girls and disrupted her financially with the fact that Kevin took $4,000 out of her account and took off with that in traveling with Amy,” he said. “So she’s left working full time with her young girls and she’s super overwhelmed with this situation.”

Waldron said Stacey Esterly feels betrayed by her husband, but her children, particularly the younger ones, miss their father. However, Waldron said, her concern right now is seeing Yu return home safely.

“She wants nothing more than for Amy to come home form Mexico and be with her mom and brother,” Waldron said.

Authorities did not take questions during Friday’s news conference, but Lake said he hoped the media could get a message to Amy.

“Her mother and brother are very worried about her, they miss her, and they are very concerned and want her to come home.”

Morning Call reporter Laurie Mason Schroeder contributed to this article.