DALLAS — Eight people have been arrested in Oklahoma City, including several on charges of human trafficking, after a North Texas teenager went missing from a Dallas Mavericks game and was found more than a week later in Oklahoma.
North Richland Hills police said a 15-year-old girl was at the American Airlines Center for an April 8 game, when she went to a restroom but never returned to her seat.
Police said she was seen leaving the arena with an unidentified male.
The police department did not release further details on her disappearance but posted on social media that she was a "missing endangered juvenile." On Monday, North Richland Hills police confirmed to WFAA the girl was, ultimately, found safe in Oklahoma but did not specify where.
WFAA is not naming the girl because she was an alleged victim of sex trafficking, according to police.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma City police confirmed to WFAA that eight people had been arrested in the girl's disappearance, each with varying charges, from a felony warrant to human trafficking rape.
"It’s not something that we take lightly whenever we are given tips or information that there is someone that we believe to be in danger possibly in our area," Sgt. Dillon Quirk, with Oklahoma City Police Department said. “Fortunately, it really worked out in the end to find this person safely.”
Here is the list of eight people arrested in this case with their corresponding charges:
- Saniya Alexander (Felony Warrant)
- Melissa Wheeler (Robbery Warrant)
- Chevaun Gibsion (Offering to Engage – Prostitution)
- Kenneth Nelson (Human Trafficking / Distribution of Child Porn)
- Sarah Hayes (Human Trafficking / Distribution of Child Porn)
- Karen Gonzales (Human Trafficking / Distribution of Child Porn)
- Thalia Gibson (Felony Warrant)
- Steven Hill (Rape II)
In an arrest affidavit obtained by WFAA, Oklahoma City police received information on April 14 that a minor from the Dallas area was in Oklahoma City and "being trafficked for commercial sex purposes." Police said an online ad on a website known for prostitution showed photos of the girl.
Police said its investigation led them to Kenneth Nelson, a convicted sex offender, who was using a Oklahoma state identification card with a different name to buy hotel rooms. The name of the person on the ID that Nelson was using is a real person who lives in Oklahoma, and Nelson's use of the ID card "could cause financial liability" onto that person.
Police said in the affidavit that they obtained search warrants for the rooms rented by Nelson and were able to identify the location of the photos taken of the Texas girl.
Karen Gonzales was identified by police as the person who took the photos of the girl, according to the arrest affidavit. The arrest affidavit also stated that Sarah Hayes admitted to police that she was present when the photos were taken and later used them for the online ads.
The involvement of the other five suspects is unclear; police just listed their names and charges as related to the case. WFAA has reached out to police for more information.
Noel Mendoza at Mosaic Family Services said trafficking often begins with talking online and meeting people the victim believes are friendly.
“Most victims of human trafficking do not identify themselves as such and that’s because the tactics that traffickers use are very subtle," he said. "It is happening in our communities. It‘s just complex issue that’s difficult to identify, to report.”
It's also not uncommon for victims to be found hundreds of miles from home.
“It further isolates that person from their support system and it makes that person easier to control," he said.