The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Arizona police are pushing back on claims from a veterans group that a homeless encampment uncovered in Tucson last week was the site of a child sex-trafficking operation.
The allegations from Veterans on Patrol, a group that works to assist homeless vets, have been widely circulating on social media since the living space was found off Interstate 19 on May 29.
Among the items reportedly found at the site are belts tied to trees, hair dye, a crib, pornographic material, children’s toys and a large water drum -- with a small opening -- that has a dresser and two crates inside.
"We are right there and our city is right there, our children are right there and it's not my problem if it's not in my backyard," Lewis Arthur, one of the group’s members, told KOLD-TV. "Now it's in our backyard."
Arthur says the items found at the site are signs that children have been sexually abused there.
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“This is a child sex-trafficking camp that no one wants to talk about, that no one wants to do nothing about,” he claimed in a video last week while walking through the site.
“This isn’t some horror set that some kids set up. This isn’t a normal homeless camp that you would encounter doing what we do,” he said.
But the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in a Facebook post late Monday, denied that the encampment had anything to do with child sex trafficking, linking to a local news interview with police denying the claims.
“Tucson Police Department officers, detectives and command staff conducted a thorough inspection of the site, spoke to the reporting parties, and collected evidence,” the department said Sunday. “Based on the department’s investigation to this point, there is no indication this camp is being used for any type of criminal activity, including human trafficking.”
Tucson police added they are working with the property owner and city officials to clean up the encampment and warned the public not to trespass on it.
“The Tucson Police Department takes all reports of suspected criminal activity seriously and appreciates the public’s awareness,” it said.