A 15-year-old girl who was missing for 11 days was found after sexually explicit images of her were posted on a prostitution website, leading authorities to locate her in a hotel room booked by a registered sex offender, Fox News reports.
Now, eight people have been arrested in connection with an alleged scheme to sell the girl for sex.
On April 8, the girl was at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, with her father watching a Mavericks game when she went to use the bathroom. She never returned, as CrimeOnline previously reported.
Unbeknownst to her father, a man allegedly lured the teen away from the arena, KRIV-TV reports.
The teen’s father alerted security and police that his daughter had gone missing, and authorities searched the facility but could not find the teen.
The Dallas Police Department notified a suburban police agency where the girl lived that she had been reported missing, but the department told Fox News it could not do more because state law requires law enforcement to classify missing juveniles as runaways unless there is evidence that they are missing involuntarily, such as by kidnapping.
The teen’s parents asked the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative for help in locating the teen. The group was eventually able to find explicit images of the girl on a prostitution website in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Police in Oklahoma City tracked the girl to an Extended Stay America hotel, where she was found on April 18.
Authorities subsequently arrested eight people: Saniya Alexander, Melissa Wheeler, Chevaun Gibson, Kenneth Nelson, Sarah Hayes, Karen Gonzales, Thalia Gibson and Steven Hill.
Chevaun Gibson faces a charge of offering to engage in prostitution. Nelson, Hayes and Gonzales have been charged with human trafficking and distribution of child pornography, KFOR-TV reports. Hill has been charged with rape. Alexander and Thalia Gibson have felony warrants, and Wheeler has a warrant for a robbery.
“We are thankful for the work of the Oklahoma City Police Department and the recovery of our daughter,” the girl’s mother said in a statement, according to Fox News. “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 toward her recovery.”
The teen’s family is pushing for answers about why law enforcement did not do more to help locate the girl. The family also believes that Extended Stay America should have taken steps to protect the girl from Nelson, a registered sex offender, who booked the hotel room under an alias.
Court records obtained by KFOR-TV show that Nelson was with the victim the day her photos were posted online.
Gonzales allegedly photographed the girl and posted them on the internet, according to the television station.
“This girl is a juvenile, and she was in the company of sex traffickers. And that raises red flags and alarms in our minds,” Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department told KFOR-TV.
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[Featured image: Top, L-R: Steven Hill, Karen Gonzales, Sarah Hayes and Thalia Gibson; Bottom, L-R: Shaniya Alexander, Chevaun Gibson, Melissa Wheeler and Kenneth Nelson/Oklahoma City Detention Center]