A message was sent to a friend of runaway teenager Megan Stammers saying she had arrived in France after she is believed to have eloped with her maths teacher, it has been disclosed.
It marked the last contact since 15-year-old Megan and 30-year-old Jeremy Forrest caught a ferry to the Continent last week, sparking a cross-Channel search.
The message was sent to one of her good friends saying she was in France but did not come from her own phone, a senior police officer revealed.
The disclosure was made as the teenager's mother and stepfather, Danielle Wilson and Martin Stammers, made an emotional appeal at a news conference for her safe return.
Chief Inspector Jason Tingley of Sussex Police said: "I can't give a specific time or date but we know there was a message passed to one of her good friends to say she had arrived safely in France. I can't say that message was from her but we believe it was. That gives us some comfort that she has arrived safely and she is in France. That's our last contact."
Last Thursday Megan asked her mother whether she could stay overnight at a friend's house. Her mother said she agreed, gave her dinner money for school the following day - and Megan left. But the following morning, her mother received a text message from her school, Bishop Bell C of E in Eastbourne, East Sussex, where Forrest teaches, saying she had failed to attend class. Checks were made to see whether the friend she claimed to be sleeping over with was at school, and when it was confirmed that she was, alarm bells rang.
Her family revealed that Megan had been receiving extra-curricular maths lessons since before the summer. But they did not suspect any relationship between her and Forrest, a married amateur musician, who lives in Ringmer, near Lewes. Mr Stammers said he was "aware" of Forrest but refused to go into further detail, saying: "It's about Megan and getting Megan back." They said it was "completely out of character" for her to disappear but police said they believe she has travelled willingly.
On a blog apparently written by Forrest under his music stage name Jeremy Ayre, he writes about a "moral dilemma" in a posting four months ago headed "You hit me just like heroin". Posted on May 19, it says: "The last two weeks have been pretty intense, in both a good and a bad way!!!" It continues: "About a week ago I had a bit of a moral dilemma to deal with, both internally and externally. And the over-riding question it left me with was this, 'How do we, and how should we, define what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable???' I came to a few different conclusions, mainly that actually we get a lot of things wrong, but at the end of the day I was satisfied that if you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that, under all the front, that you are a good person, that should have faith in your own judgment."
Forrest is 6ft, slim with fuzzy facial hair and mousy brown hair. He wears square glasses, dresses casually and has a black star tattoo on his upper left arm.
Interpol, the UK Border Agency, the British embassy in France and the French authorities were working to help trace Megan. Anyone with information is asked to call Sussex Police on 101, quoting Operation Oakwood. A dedicated telephone number and text number which can be used from abroad have been set up. They are 00441273 475432 or text +447786208090.