More than seventy children have been rescued from a human trafficking ring by law enforcement officers from multiple agencies.
Over the span of three weeks, Operation Lost Souls was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) El Paso and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Other federal, state, and local agencies were also involved.
The operation ran from April 2022 till mid-May, taking place in El Paso, Midland, Ector, and Tom Green counties.
Children between the ages of 10 and 17 years old were found, many considered to be runaways because of their age and sadly, all seventy children were the victims of sex trafficking, and physical and sexual abuse.
Counseling and other services will be provided for the children and their families by the agencies who engaged in the operation.
HSI El Paso Deputy Special Agency in Charge Taekuk Cho said during a May 25 news conference to announce the results of the operation:
“Operation Lost Souls exemplifies HSI’s commitment to protecting the public from crimes of victimization. In this case, we are looking out for our children – our community’s most precious resource. HSI is committed to continue working with our law enforcement partners to locate, recover and help missing children heal, while ensuring that perpetrators are held responsible for these heinous crimes and brought to justice.”
DPS Major Matthew Mull said: “At the DPS, teamwork is one of our core values. We are grateful for all our law enforcement partners who participated in this operation and who work around the clock every day to protect our communities, including our youth.”
In early April, a 15-year-old girl had been kidnapped while at a basketball game at the American Airlines Center, after she went to use the bathroom, but did not return and was later seen leaving with a strange man.
Initially when her father contacted the Dallas Police Department for help, because according to the state’s family code, teenagers who go missing are runaways.
“My daughter went missing in the city of Dallas, this is a Dallas case, but they refused to open a case for her,” said the father.
After the Dallas Police Department refused to help, the girl’s family turned to Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative. The group was able to track down nude photos on a prostitution website and Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) was alerted.
The girl was found at an Extended Stay America hotel in Oklahoma City and was rescued that day and eight individuals were arrested.
“We are thankful for the work of the OCPD and the recovery of our daughter. My heart breaks for the unimaginable things my daughter had to endure [while] she was taken, and I am so glad she is safe as we work toward her recovery,” the girl’s mother said in a May 5 statement.
Zeke Fortenberry, lawyer for the missing girl’s family, rebuked the “systems and organizations involved in the case” for “failing the victim” in a statement. He added that her life “will forever be changed” because of the harrowing events.
“She should never have had contact with the man at the Mavericks game. The Extended Stay America hotel in Oklahoma City puts profits ahead of people by turning a blind eye to the sexual exploitation occurring right before their eyes. The Dallas Police should have worked quickly to investigate leads and locate the teenager before she was trafficked to Oklahoma.”