Woman driving cross country with boyfriend hasn’t been heard from in weeks, TN cops say

Family members are searching for a 33-year-old woman who disappeared while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, relatives and police say.

Nikki Alcaraz, who also goes by Nikki Cunningham, was seen in Moriarty, New Mexico, on May 6, according to a post on the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. Moriarty is about 40 miles east of Albuquerque.

The last text she sent to loved ones was on May 8, according to the sheriff’s office.

Alcaraz, who lives in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, was traveling with her boyfriend, Steven Tyler Stratton, in a black Jeep Wrangler with camouflage seat covers, according to her family and police.

She was photographed at an EcoATM, a type of kiosk where electronics can be traded in for cash, in Redding, California, about 160 miles north of Sacramento, on May 27, Torrance County Sheriff David Frazee wrote in an email to McClatchy News. She was seen with Stratton and the black Jeep, he said.

Family is looking for answers

Police officers in New Mexico made contact with Alcaraz and Stratton on May 4 after a witness saw Stratton punch her in the face as she was sitting on the ground in a rest area, according to a report from the Torrance County Sheriff’s Office.

When a deputy arrived, Alcaraz told him that Stratton had “started to hit her for no reason,” the report says. When they pulled into the rest area, she tried to jump out of the vehicle, but Stratton “caught her,” according to the report.

Stratton told the deputy that Alcaraz hit him in the mouth, the report says. He had blood “coming from his mouth and nose area,” according to the report. Alcaraz said she had bruises on her chest, back and arms, the report says.

Alcaraz and Stratton did not pursue charges and each were given rides from the scene, according to the sheriff’s office. Alcaraz was taken to Moriarty and Stratton was dropped off in Edgewood, about 10 miles away, according to the report.

A friend of Alcaraz’s from California drove to Moriarty to meet her, Smiley said. He helped get her car out of the impound lot and took her to a hospital, where she was treated for a brain bleed, a broken hand and severe bruising, Patsy Smiley, a family friend speaking on behalf of the family, told McClatchy News.

The friend tried to take her back to California with him, but Alcaraz said she didn’t want to leave without Stratton and went to find him, Smiley said.

On May 8, Alcaraz texted her sister to say she was with Stratton and that she planned to drop him off in Flagstaff, Arizona, before driving to a friend’s place in California, Smiley said.

The license plate of her Jeep was detected by a license plate reader that day at a Walmart on Huntington Drive in Flagstaff, which is about 140 miles north of Phoenix, Smiley said.

Nikki Alcaraz and her boyfriend, Steven Tyler Stratton, went missing while driving cross country. Family members say circumstances around her disappearance are similar to the high-profile Gabby Petito case.
Nikki Alcaraz and her boyfriend, Steven Tyler Stratton, went missing while driving cross country. Family members say circumstances around her disappearance are similar to the high-profile Gabby Petito case.

‘The whole family is extremely distraught’

Alcaraz’s family is “under extreme duress,” but they still have hope that she’ll be found safe, Smiley said.

Stratton and Alcaraz have been together “on and off” and share an 11-year-old child, Smiley said.

The couple separated a few years ago and Alcaraz remarried and had another child, who is now 3, Smiley said. But Alcaraz got divorced about a year ago and got back together with Stratton, she said.

Smiley said she spoke with Stratton’s grandfather by phone on May 29, and he told her that neither he nor anyone in the family had heard from Stratton since he left on the trip.

For Alcaraz’s family, the timing of her disappearance is extremely painful. Alcaraz’s 39-year-old sister died in January and her grandfather died in April, Smiley said.

“The whole family is extremely distraught,” she said. “They’re turning over any rock they can.”

Smiley called Alcaraz a “sweetheart” and “strikingly beautiful.”

“She was outgoing, she was fun, she was funny,” Smiley said. “I just can’t say enough good things about Nikki.”

She described Alcaraz as 5 feet, 6 inches tall and slim with long dark hair and a large tattoo across her chest. She asked anyone with information to contact the Moriarty Police Department at (505) 832-6060.

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