Officials in Florida issued a warning after seven people, including six men and a woman, were arrested this week on human trafficking charges involving two teen boys—who they arranged to pick up through the online gaming app, Discord. The suspects were apprehended after an 8-month long investigation, officials said.
Authorities announced at a press conference yesterday that Mark Earl Dennis, 52, his spouse, Andrew Barry Dennis, 45, Michael Ray Blasdel, 36, J.R. Gauthier, 29, Eleanor Faye McGlamory, 56, and Michael Wayne Schwartz, 51, were arrested Monday, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Another suspect, Curtis Gruwell, was reportedly taken into custody on Tuesday. The arrests took place in Pinellas, Marion, and Lee Counties, according to St. Petersburg police.
Authorities said the boys, aged 16 and 17 years old, were discovered and subsequently “rescued” from the home in May following a tip by Louisiana authorities that the older teen boy was missing, as reported by Fox 13. When the detectives alerted police, they said “the teen was lured” to a mobile home in Florida using Discord, a popular “voice and text chat” app for “gamers.”
“He was told he was going to go to a place that was better,” St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway stated at the news conference.
Police said when they reported to the mobile home, located at the Silver Lake Mobile Community, they found the 17-year-old and another boy, a 16-year-old. The boys reportedly lived with the Dennis’s, Schwartz, and Gruwell, police said.
While Mark Dennis allegedly told police that he was the younger teen’s father, he apparently had nothing to prove the claim. Authorities discovered that the teen was not his child, and had been reported missing almost a year earlier from Marion County, according to authorities.
Further, officials said the investigation revealed that the suspects planned on giving the boy a new identity in an effort to conceal their crimes.
Upon discovery, authorities said they found the 16-year-old living in “squalor,” made to thrive on only a “small mattress, surrounded by animal cages and animal waste.”
During the course of the investigation, detectives said they learned that the younger boy had been repeatedly sexually assaulted. He was subsequently taken to a “safe location” for “treatment” following the alleged heinous ordeal, police said.
Investigators said they do not believe the 17- year-old was sexually abused.
Natasha Nascimento, founder and executive director at Redefining Refuge, a Florida-based organization aimed at helping victims of sex trafficking, reportedly warned parents and guardians of the dangers that lurk online.
“Traffickers and predators are using social media every single day to recruit children,” Nascimento told Fox 13.
“We’ve had children in our program who are born and raised sort of in foster care unfortunately, and we’ve had kids in our program from seven-figure households where they have parents who are physicians. So, no child is exempt,” she continued.
Officials believe other victims could come out of the investigation, which is ongoing.
The suspects are behind bars on several counts, including human trafficking related charges. The Dennis’s, Blasdel, and Gauthier also face charges of sexual battery with a child under 16.
This is a developing story. Check back with CrimeOnline for the latest updates.
[Feature Photo: Pexels]