On Tuesday evening, 16-year-old Andrew Kane nonchalantly asked his mother and father if they would drive him from their Barrie, Ont., home to a hotel in nearby Midland, where he planned to meet a 42-year-old woman with whom he had been having a secret relationship over the Internet.
His stunned parents refused and the teen calmly returned to the computer, telling them he would let the woman know he wasn't coming. At 2 a.m., Marlene Kane heard her front door open, and found her son gone, leaving behind a troubling trail of web chats that led to Houston, Tex., and the World of Warcraft.
The Grade 11 student was found Thursday afternoon, after his parents spent two days desperately appealing for his safe return. On Wednesday, police had released pictures of Lauri Price, a Texas mother of four who had allegedly flown to Toronto and driven a rental car to collect the teen after striking up a relationship with him while playing the popular online game.
"All they had to do was read the chat logs and they were immediately concerned," Ms. Kane said of her son's relationship with the woman. "He said she was his soulmate."
Sergeant Robert Allan of the Barrie police said the couple was found Thursday afternoon at a Future Shop in Orillia after a tip from the public. The teenager had told Ms. Price he was 20 - the age of consent in Canada is 16 - and police said she will not face criminal charges.
"She'll be making her way home," he said.
Sgt. Allan said neither the teen or Ms. Price expressed any remorse.
After his parents rebuffed his request to "spend the rest of the holidays" with Ms. Price, Andrew left the house taking only the laptop computer he had received as a Christmas gift, and leaving a note for his parents justifying his decision.
"I don't know how to explain it to you, but this will show you not only the commitment we have to each other, but also that your fears of her are ill found," he wrote. "Like I said, she offered to meet with you. I got in the way of that. What person who would do me harm would be willing to meet with you?"
Ms. Kane learned of her son's strange relationship more than a year ago, when she stumbled upon an MSN chat log between the two. The family keeps its computer in a common area, where it could be shared with Andrew's sisters, Nicole, 19, and Samantha, 13.
But the teen was apparently unaware that the computer kept a log of his chats, and Ms. Kane read in horror as her son discussed meeting his much older girlfriend face to face and engaged in overt sexual discussions.
Ms. Price's Facebook page reveals a middle-aged woman with a large collection of friends - many made online - and a degree from Texas A&M granted in 1988, before Andrew was born. Police told Andrew's family that she had apparently struck up romantic relationships on World of Warcraft forums before, but never with a minor.
Sgt. Allen of the Barrie Police said the force had contacted Texas authorities about the woman, but did not know if she had a criminal record. They did not issue an Amber Alert because the teen did not seem to be in any immediate danger.
Ms. Kane said she had considered contacting the police after learning about the relationship, but was satisfied by Andrew's assurances that he would not share any personal information with the woman. Until this week, Ms. Kane and her husband had not heard anything about Ms. Price for more than eight months.
His disappearance this week is the latest instalment of the family battle over World of Warcraft, an online multiplayer swords-and-sorcery game.
For more than a year, Ms. Kane said her son has played the game "every waking hour," and has rarely attended school because of the addiction.
His parents took his computer away for four weeks last year and put him in a counselling program, but after a month, Andrew's psychologist suggested that his computer privileges be reinstated as a reward for the progress he had made.
"We thought he was managing it well, but eventually he was back to his old habits," said Ms. Kane. "It turned out to be not so great advice."
But Andrew's safe return Thursday was still a happy ending.
In 2008, 15-year-old Brandon Crisp ran away from his Barrie home after having his XBox confiscated. He died after falling out of a tree and was found three weeks later by hunters.
According to his parents, Brandon was addicted to the video game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. They took away his game console and when Brandon threatened to run away, his father helped him pack his knapsack, assuming he would soon return.
Earlier that year, police rescued a 16-year-old autistic girl from California who was abducted by a man she had met playing World of Warcraft.
David Faboo, 38, drove from Oregon to meet the girl, but she sent a text message to friends soon after telling them she'd made a mistake and asking for help.