updated 11/08/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 11/09/2013 AT 3:45 PM ET
For nine years, family and friends of a Wisconsin teen who vanished in 2004 worried about her fate, and whether they would ever hear from or see her again.
In September, they learned that Connie McCallister, now 26, is alive and living in Mexico – and after speaking with a missionary who contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, McCallister is seeking help to finally come home.
“We want to use this as an example for families with missing relatives to never give up hope,” family friend Judy Weise told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
McCallister was a 16-year-old high-school honor-roll student in Athens, Wis., who was dating a 22-year-old when the couple vanished on Aug. 15, 2004, after attending a party in Milwaukee, 200 miles away. Her last words to her family were in a call to her sister, according to Weise, with the alarming message, “He won’t bring me back.”
McCallister was drugged and repeatedly beaten before breaking from that boyfriend, then fell into a second abusive relationship, says Weise. The second boyfriend fathered a child by McCallister, but in the hospital McCallister got help and changed her identity.
She married a man with whom she has two additional children. The pair later met a church missionary to whom McCallister told her story, and the missionary contacted the National Center, which had listed McCallister’s case on its website since her disappearance.
The unnamed original boyfriend is being sought for an unrelated case on a charge of sexual assault, according to the Daily Herald Media, which first reported the story.
Weise tells PEOPLE the Athens community plans a Nov. 17 fundraiser at Trinity Lutheran Church and School to help McCallister and her children – ages 1, 3 and 6 – relocate and reunite with relatives in the area, perhaps by Christmas.
Apart from the move and the added legal costs so McCallister’s husband, who supports his wife’s effort, can join the family in Wisconsin, “there will be continued expenses with medical treatment for the children and to get her established with some living expenses,” says Weise.
“We’re just so excited because this story will be a happy one,” Weise told the Journal Sentinel. “Not many families can have this happy ending.”