Twelve-year-old Yuan was last seen exiting a school bus at approximately 3:00pm on October 21, 1998 in Lincolnia, Virginia. She was supposed to take a cab to a doctor's appointment at 3:30pm, but when the cab arrived, she wasn't there and never returned to her foster home.
Yuan was smuggled into Washington, D.C. from China via Bangkok and Paris. She used a genuine Thai passport to get into the country and posed as the niece of her smuggler, Chaichana Klaharn. They were caught at Dulles International Airport.
Yuan couldn't speak English or Thai and through a Chinese translator, she told immigration authorities that she was from Fuzhou in the Chinese province of Fujian & her parents had paid Klaharn a significant sum of money to take her to the United States. He said he was supposed to deliver Yuan to a hotel in Washington, DC.
Klaharn pled guilty to passport fraud in September of 1998 and sentenced to 4 months in jail.
Yuan was sent to live with a foster family in Alexandria, Virginia while authorities figured out what to do with her. At first, she stayed at home with a Chinese-speaking babysitter and after three weeks, she was enrolled in the 7th grade at Holmes Middle School where she was the only Mandarin-speaking student.
Yuan would typically take the school bus home with one of her foster sisters and arrived home at 3:10pm, but on the day she disappeared, she rode the bus alone.
An extensive search of the area produced no clues as to Yuan's whereabouts. Yuan wasn't familiar with the neighborhood and the time of her disappearance.
Her foster family didn't speak Mandarin and while they stated that Yuan appeared to be intelligent and content with her situation, they admitted that they didn't know her very well and couldn't guess whether she ran away or not. Yuan had lived with the family for only 6 weeks at the time of her disappearance.
Yuan's immediate family lives in China. She told immigration officials that she was 12 years old, but it's possible that Yuan was about 15 years old. In November of 2008, 10 years after her disappearance, investigators thought that Yuan could be in the Kansas City, Missouri area, but the information was never confirmed.
Authorities believe that Yuan ran away out of fear that she would be deported back to China or she was possibly abducted by one of the people who smuggled her into the country. If Yuan was abducted, she may be being forced to work for whoever took her.
Yuan's case remains unsolved. Yuan was last seen wearing a white t-shirt, a blue denim jacket, jeans, and white sneakers. She spoke Mandarin Chinese and little English at the time of her disappearance. Yuan's nickname is Incha.