Texas Teen Trafficked from Mavericks Game Found 11 Days Later

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    The lawyer for the family of the victim, Zeke Fortenberry of Fortenberry PLLC, in an announcement said the victim was discovered in a hotel located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 18 – 11 weeks after the disappearance. 

    Fox News reports:

    The Oklahoma City Police Department OKCPD has detained Saniya Alexander, Melissa Wheeler, Chevaun Gibson, Kenneth Nelson, Sarah Hayes, Karen Gonzales, Thalia Gibson, and Steven Hill in connection to the case of trafficking. Gibson is accused of soliciting prostitution. Nelson, Hayes, and Gonzales are accused of sexual trafficking in children and the dissemination of pornography. Hill is accused of rape. Gibson and Alexander have warrants for felony, and Wheeler is wanted for robbery.

    The victim was not identified until Nelson, Gonzales, and Hayes were detained, OKCPD Captain Valerie Littlejohn said to KDFW. When the victim was identified, “five other people, somehow in relation throughout the investigation, were arrested,” she explained.

    In the press release, Fortenberry stated that the girl and her father went to the Mavericks game on April 8 at the American Airlines Center (AAC) in Dallas, TX. When the first half of the game was about to conclude, she went into the bathroom and never returned to her seat which prompted her father to begin searching for her. The girl was not located, so he notified the security at the arena and Dallas police about her disappearance. She was then instructed to return home if she was not found after the game had ended as stated in the release.

    Surveillance footage allegedly showed an unidentified man leaving the arena along with a woman, KDFW said.

    Fortenberry stated that a person who the basketball team and arena believe was an unauthentic ticket seller has been believed to have provided a fake ticket to a man who caught the teen's attention after he made contact with her inside a portion of the arena that his ticket didn't grant him access to.

    The family contacted the Dallas Police Department (DPD) repeatedly over the next few days for assistance in locating the teenager; however, Fortenberry stated that the department did not take the initiative to begin an investigation.

    Per Fox News:

    The DPD informed Fox News Digital that an officer who was at an April 8 Mavericks game was informed of the disappearance of a 15-year-old and conducted a search of the venue and the area the night of the disappearance. In addition, the department mentioned Texas Family Code (51.03 b. 3) that “dictates that missing juveniles are investigated as runaways unless there are circumstances which appear as involuntary such as a kidnapping or abduction.”

    “Those cases per code are to be filed where the juvenile resides,” the department stated. “A report was generated by Dallas Police and Dallas Police assisted the North Richland Hills Police Department (lead agency as that was where the teen resided) and a bulletin about the missing teen was created and went out to the department on April 11, 2022.”

    “My daughter went missing in the city of Dallas, this is a Dallas case, but they refused to open a case for her,” the father wrote in the press release.

    Fortenberry said that the family contacted the non-profit organization, Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative (TXCTI), to assist in finding the teenager after they were dismayed at the department's “lack of effort.” The group was able to find an online site that featured explicit photos of the victim, which showed that she was advertised as a prostitute within Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Fortenberry explained. TXCTI alerted the Oklahoma City Police Department (OKCPD) and they immediately began investigations into the incident. The investigation by the OKCPD resulted in a search of an Extended Stay America hotel in the city where the girl of 15 was kept. She was eventually rescued and returned to her parents, Fortenberry said.

    The attorney claimed that The Extended Stay America hotel failed to disclose any signs of trafficking. In addition, the alleged sex offender registered with the hotel used multiple hotel rooms to rent using fake identity.

    “We are thankful for the work of the Oklahoma City Police Department and the recovery of our daughter,” the mother of the child said. “My heart breaks for the unimaginable things my daughter had to endure for the 11 days she was taken, and I am so glad she is safe as we work towards her recovery.”

    “The systems and organizations involved in this case continually failed the victim,” Fortenberry stated in an interview.

    He continued:

    She should not have had contact with the man during the Mavericks game. It is the responsibility of Dallas Police to work swiftly to find leads and locate the teenager prior to her being taken to Oklahoma. It appears that the Extended Stay America hotel in Oklahoma City put profits ahead of its guests by refusing to acknowledge the sexual exploitation that was happening in front of their eyes. The victim's life will be forever changed.

    “We hope to hold accountable those responsible and create change within these organizations so that this never happens to any other child.”

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