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Missing mom seen ‘beat up’ during cross-country trip with boyfriend has contacted her family

Steven Tyler Stratton, Nikki Alcaraz

Steven Tyler Stratton and Nikki Alcaraz (L) in a photo provided by the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office; Nikki Alcaraz, possibly pictured (r) on May 27 at California Walmart (Cheatham County DA)

Update at 9:00 p.m.: The Redding Police Department issued a statement following the news that missing Tennessee mom of two Nikki Alcaraz has contacted her family.

“On May 30, 2023, at around 4:30 P.M., the Redding Police Department learned Missing Person Nikki Alcaraz was contacted earlier today by the Eureka Police Department and found to be safe,” the department said in a statement. “The Redding Police Department has been in contact with the Moriarty, New Mexico Police Department and confirmed Nikki is no longer considered a missing person. The Redding Police Department would like to thank our allied agency partners who assisted with efforts to locate Nikki.”

Update at 8:45 p.m.: The family of Nikki Alcaraz, the Tennessee mother reported missing by her family after a domestic violence incident with her longtime boyfriend, has contacted her, according to a family friend and Alcaraz’s brother.

Alcaraz was last seen in surveillance photos at a Walmart in Redding, California, on May 27, where she appeared to be trying to sell a cellphone at an eco-ATM that pays cash on the spot for cellphones and other electronic devices. Before that, her family in Tennessee had not heard or seen from her since early May.

Sheriff’s officials in Torrance County, New Mexico, released body camera footage Monday of a domestic violence incident involving Alcaraz and her boyfriend of 16 years, Tyler Stratton, on May 4. A trucker called 911 to report that Stratton punched Alcaraz in the face. At first, Alcaraz said she wanted to press charges. Stratton denied hitting her and claimed that she had hit him. Both admitted to drinking alcohol at the time.

Sheriff’s deputies let the pair go separately after Alcaraz declined to file charges. Her family launched a nationwide search effort for her with the assistance of the Gabby Petito Foundation.

Petito was murdered by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, in 2021 as the two traveled cross country in a van. Laundrie later took his own life in a Florida swamp near his home. Petito’s family created the foundation to help other domestic violence victims.

Earlier: Alcaraz, a.k.a. Nikki Cunningham, and her boyfriend, ostensibly heading with their dog by Jeep to Orange County to visit family, were deemed to be “mutual combatants while traveling down the interstate” in Torrance County, New Mexico, on May 4.

A witness identified as Jordan Hamilton, a trucker driving on I-40, called authorities and reported seeing Alcaraz in a rest area off the interstate “sitting on the ground with the male over her and he punched her in the face,” according to Deputy Erwin Young’s incident report. What happened next evoked the early days of the Gabby Petito-Brian Laundrie case, when a domestic abuse incident in Utah ended with authorities separating them for the night, rather than pursuing charges.

The deputy said Alcaraz told him that she and Stratton dropped off an unspecified friend in Texas and proceeded to drink a bottle of Fireball. She claimed the man “started to hit her for no reason” while she was in the passenger seat, and she expressed a desire to press charges.

“Upon checking Ms. Alcaraz I was able to notice red marks on her face and fingerprint marks on both arms. Ms. Alcaraz also stated that she had a bruise on her chest and her back,” the deputy wrote. A missing person poster later showed a photo of Alcaraz with a black eye.

Nikki Alcaraz missing person poster

Nikki Alcaraz missing person poster (Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office)

The deputy said, however, that Stratton had a different story.

Stratton allegedly claimed that he was the one driving and that Alcaraz “hit him in the mouth for no reason.”

“Mr. Stratton also stated that Nikki does blackouts after drinking liquor,” the incident report said.

Stratton said he didn’t want Alcaraz to go to jail, according to the deputy. Once more deputies got involved in the investigation, neither Stratton nor Alcaraz wanted to press charges and neither one would say who was driving the Jeep, the incident report said. The intoxicated couple was separated for the night, authorities said.

“Deputies spoke with both subjects again and neither one would admit to driving the vehicle and they were both intoxicated. Mr.Stratton and Ms. Alcaraz stated that they did not want to assist with any charges being filed. Both Subjects were given a ride from the scene. Ms. Alcaraz was transported to Moriarty, NM. Mr. Stratton will be dropped off in Edgewood, NM,” authorities said.

Upon further investigation of the driver’s side of the Jeep, Deputy Young determined that Stratton and Alcaraz were “mutual combatants.”

“I noticed the driver’s seat to have been pushed back to indicate a taller person was driving. I noticed numerous blood spatter on the passenger side door which would have come from Mr. Stratton since he was the only one with visible blood on his face. I also noticed blood on the running board. It was determined that both parties were mutual combatants while traveling down the interstate. The bruise on Ms.Alcaraz’s arms came from Mr. Stratton holding her down to avoid being hit.”

The Jeep, which belonged to Alcaraz, was removed from the scene by Frank of Flying C Towing’s, the incident report said.

Alcaraz’s friend Danny drove 11 hours from California to New Mexico after the incident and was with Alcaraz when she picked up the car the next day, May 5, he told Law&Crime on Tuesday.

When police followed up with the towing company on Monday, they confirmed that Alcaraz came to retrieve the car, with a male who was not Stratton.

“On 5-29-2023 I spoke with Frank and asked him about the subjects that picked up the Jeep. Frank advised the female showed up in a vehicle from California. Frank also stated that the male was not the same person from the day before. Frank also stated that they had used the male cell phone to call him and he gave me the cell phone number,” documents said. “Frank also stated the unknown male drove the Jeep out once he got insurance for it and the female Nikki drove the male vehicle.”

Nikki Alcaraz

Nikki Alcaraz, pictured in missing person posters (Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office)

Between May 4 and May 29, Nikki Alcaraz reportedly texted her sister Toni on May 9 claiming to be in Arizona, but she was not heard from in the weeks since.

“She was crying and upset” after the New Mexico incident, Toni told WKRN. “Her eye was already turning black and you could tell she was beat up pretty bad.”

WKRN, citing a deputy and District Attorney General Ray Crouch in Cheatham County, Tennessee, reported a possible sighting of Alcaraz in Shasta County, California, at a Redding-area Walmart on May 27.

The woman who may be Alcaraz was reportedly selling her phone at an ecoATM. A bandana covered the woman’s neck and chest, where Alcaraz has tattoos.

Nikki Alcaraz’s brother Josh Alcaraz told Law&Crime he believes Stratton can be seen in the Walmart image behind Alcaraz.

Shasta County is a 10-hour drive away from Orange County.

Cheatham County court records reviewed by Law&Crime show that Stratton is wanted in connection with a separate theft case.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include that it was Alcaraz’s friend who went with her to pick up her vehicle on May 5.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.

Angenette Levy is a correspondent and host for the Law&Crime Network. Angenette has worked in newsrooms in Green Bay, Wisconsin and Cincinnati, Ohio. She has covered a number of high-profile criminal cases in both state and federal courts throughout her career including the trials of Steven Avery, Brooke “Skylar” Richardson and most recently the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. She was nominated for an Emmy in 2015 for a story she covered in which she found a missing toddler who was the subject of an Amber Alert. Angenette is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati.