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Eight people arrested after teenage girl trafficked from Dallas Mavericks game is found in Oklahoma

The Independent logo The Independent 5/21/2022 Gino Spocchia
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Eight people have been arrested in connection with the alleged trafficking of a teenage girl who went missing at a Dallas Mavericks game, authorities in Oklahoma have said.

The teen, who has not been identified, vanished from a basketball game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on 8 April, where she was with family.

A 10-day search followed before she was found in Oklahoma City, about 206 miles north of Dallas, Texas, on 18 April.

That allegedly came after photos of the 15-year-old were found on a prostitution website based in Oklahoma City by the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative (TXCTI), Fox News reported.

The girl’s parents sought out the centre’s help immediately after she went missing.

On Friday, police in Oklahoma City arrested eight people who have since been charged with crimes including child trafficking as well as attempts at distributing child pornography, reports said.

They are Saniya Alexander, Melissa Wheeler, Chevaun Gibson, Kenneth Nelson, Sarah Hayes, Karen Gonzales, Thalia Gibson and Steven Hill.

“We are thankful for the work of the Oklahoma City Police Department and the recovery of our daughter,” the girl’s family said in a statement earlier this month. “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.”

In a statement on Friday, family attorney Zeke Fortenberry raised questions about the systems used by Dallas Police and the American Airlines Center – and said more could have been done.

“The systems and organisations involved in this case continually failed the victim”, the attorney was reported as saying. “She should never have had contact with the man at the Mavericks game. The Dallas Police should have worked quickly to investigate leads and locate the teenager before she was trafficked to Oklahoma”.

In a statement, Dallas Police told The Indepedent: “On April 8, 2022, an off-duty Dallas police officer working the Dallas Mavericks game was notified of a missing person at the game. The event and location was searched that evening.

“Texas Family Code(51.03 b. 3) 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.

“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”.

The Independent has approached the American Airlines Center for comment.

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