Behind the headline

One student’s emancipation story

Salinas Dinh, Writer, Reporter

Amidst a pandemic while students all across the world struggled adjusting to the drastic changes to both their school, and home life, 16-year-old (now 17) Ariana Peterson took charge of her own life by deciding to run away. 

Ariana, a Johnson HS student, and her mother had a complicated relationship that she says took a toll on her mental health. Things between her mom and her only worsened when lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were enacted all across the U.S. After two years of dealing with her situation, Ariana says she took matters in her own hands and fled her mother’s house last May.

Before leaving, Ariana did some research on what counted as running away in Texas. According to Texas law, you are not a runaway if you have contacted your legal guardians within 24 hours, or if you were with an immediate family member. At first Ariana tried her best to make a reasonable compromise with her mother, one that would benefit them both. She begged for permission to stay at her godmother’s house, believing that conflict between the two of them would be better resolved within a given time.

Ariana said it was to no avail. Her mother refused, leaving Ariana no choice but go to a different city. Not too long afterwards, her mother managed to follow her and alerted authorities, but when law enforcement arrived Ariana was nowhere to be found. She had left again, deliberately leaving her phone that had a tracking device behind.

Officially ‘off the grid,’ Ariana said she had no social media, nor did she contact any of her friends. 

“Social media and staying in touch with people is so ingrained in our lives,” said Ariana. She found it eye-opening, and tremendously interesting as to how much could change within the three months that she was gone, and out of touch with the world she once knew so well.  

A post from KPD reported Peterson as kidnapped, something she said was not the case.

Not long after Ariana ran away, her mother filed a missing person report and sent out a mass message to all of her friends claiming that her daughter was “kidnapped.” Panic arose as the trending missing post circulated social media.

While Ariana was gone, she said was able to get herself an attorney to help her with the legal actions and the process of getting emancipated from her mother. 

The first family that opened their doors to her was a family with values that she says “contrasted” hers. Knowing that she was “at their mercy,” Ariana tried her best not to create any conflict by inserting her opinions. Despite their differing views, Ariana said they treated her “with the utmost kindness.” 

Kyle Police searching for missing 16-year-old | KEYE

The second family that offered their hospitality were, she says, a better fit, giving Ariana the emotional support she needed. A member of that household had gone through a similar situation at Ariana’s age and because of that had a lot of insight and experience to share with her.

“She helped me navigate the anger and resentment that I had towards my mom,” said Ariana, who was highly appreciative and considers this person “her second mom.” 

Sometime in August, Ariana finally returned home.  “When I came back and saw my face all over social media I thought, “wow you really don’t know the situation that people are in, because you see missing reports all of the time without knowing the entire story.”

It gave Ariana a lot of insight as to people’s opinions might not necessarily be fact. She came to realize that there is so much more depth and details to everyone’s story than what media says. 

On December 4, 2020 the 17-year-old accomplished her goal of being officially emancipated with the help of her attorney. 

Ariana says it was a blessing in disguise. “Although the pandemic has negatively impacted many people, I don’t think I would’ve been able to run away successfully if it weren’t for the pandemic.”

A word of advice she has for all, especially for those who are hesitant to seek therapy is “therapy benefits everybody. You don’t have to be depressed, or have an eating disorder to see a therapist. Even if you’re just stressed out about school, they will have the resources to help you out.” 

She is now living with a relative, which works out well because she is able to do anything she needs to for virtual classes. Ariana and her caretaker actively partake in local events to serve the community, and she is a full-time student.

Ariana Peterson is more than a face on a missing report. The junior from Johnson High School is the captain of Thespians (the theatre club), which she loves being a part of. Her dream school is Princeton. She would like to major in socioeconomics, and is considering a minor in psychology or theatre. Ariana is also a huge lover of NPR, and hopes to give a TED talk one day.