"It's a tragic story," Glendale police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said. "She didn't know how to handle it and she fled."
Salas was reunited with her family in Glendale late Thursday, nearly two days after she went missing, prompting a massive search. She was last seen around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday after telling her family she was going on her usual run.
As the search progressed, investigators discovered that she had misled her parents by telling them she was attending UCLA. The university reported that the fourth-year student and sociology major was last enrolled in fall 2008.
Salas turned up in a carpet store in Merced in central California on Thursday morning, Lorenz said.
She told police she'd been abducted by a man at knifepoint during her run and was taken to Merced by bus and train, he said.
Back home in her parents' tiny living room late Thursday, a tearful Salas spoke to her family, friends and about 40 people who helped search for her. KMEX-TV was the only news organization allowed inside.
Salas choked back tears and thanked them for their "unconditional love," but she didn't explain exactly why or how she ran away.
"Yesterday I wanted to disappear, and I did," she said in Spanish. "I want to ask your forgiveness for being dishonest and to say that I have a problem."
Her father, Henry Salas, told KMEX that he was grateful to God that his daughter returned safe and sound.
"We were at the police station and talked with our daughter and there are certain things that she hadn't told us. Everything's under control and the communication will return to normal," he said in Spanish.
Salas stuck with the story that she'd been abducted until shortly before she was set to be reunited with her family at the Glendale police station, Lorenz said. She then admitted that she made it up and fled because she felt intense pressure from her family and friends.
Her parents had been planning a graduation party for their daughter.