Oklahoma City authorities have arrested and charged eight individuals after a 15-year-old Texas girl was allegedly trafficked from a Dallas Mavericks game at the American Airlines Center (AAC) game on April 8.
The girl went to use the bathroom while attending the Mavericks game with her father and never returned, according to a press release from her family's attorney, Zeke Fortenberry of the Fortenberry Firm, PLLC.
She was gone for 10 days until authorities located her at an Extended Stay America hotel in Oklahoma City on April 18.
The Oklahoma City Police Department has arrested Saniya Alexander, Melissa Wheeler, Chevaun Gibson, Kenneth Nelson, Sarah Hayes, Karen Gonzales, Thalia Gibson and Steven Hill in connection to the trafficking case. Gibson is charged with offering to engage in prostitution; Nelson, Hayes and Gonzales are charged with human trafficking and distribution of child pornography; Hill is charged with rape; Gibson and Alexander have felony warrants; and Wheeler has a robbery warrant.
"We are thankful for the work of the Oklahoma City Police Department and the recovery of our daughter. 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 girl's mother said in a May 5 statement.
After the girl left to use the bathroom at the AAC and did not return, her father "immediately notified AAC security, staff, and Dallas [p]olice [o]fficers of her disappearance." By the time the game ended, she "had not been found," and her father was instructed to return home.
Fortenberry says the Dallas Police Department (DPD) never opened an investigation into the case despite multiple pleas from the victim's parents.
"My daughter was missing in Dallas, this is a Dallas case, but they refused to open a case for her," the girl's father said of the DPD.
The DPD told Fox News Digital that an officer at the April 8 Mavericks game was notified of the 15-year-old's disappearance and searched the event and location that night. Beyond that, the department pointed to Texas Family Code (51.03 b. 3), which "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," the department said. "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 North Richland Hills Police Department said it handled the missing persons side of the case, but the Oklahoma City Police Department eventually arrested the eight individuals involved in the alleged trafficking incident.
The victim's parents eventually sought a nonprofit handling Texas trafficking cases called the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative (TXCTI) to help them locate their daughter. The organization was able to track down explicit images of the victim on a prostitution website out of Oklahoma City.
Now, her family is demanding answers as to why the DPD and AAC did not do more to help locate the girl when she went missing. They are also demanding answers from Extended Stay America, which Fortenberry alleges did not implement safety and security protocols to protect the girl from a registered sex offender who used a fake name and ID card to rent rooms at the hotel chain's location in Oklahoma City.
The offender was allegedly able to purchase multiple hotel rooms for multiple nights.
Additionally, Fortenberry said in the press release that a fraudulent ticket seller known to the AAC and Mavericks may have sold a fake ticket to a male suspect who allegedly lured the victim from the sports center.
"The systems and organizations involved in this case continually failed the victim. 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," Fortenberry said in a statement. "The Extended Stay America hotel in Oklahoma City put profits ahead of people by turning a blind eye to the sexual exploitation occurring right before their eyes. This victim’s life will forever be changed. We hope to hold accountable those responsible and create change within these organizations so that this never happens to any other child."
Extended Stay told Fox News Digital that it is "deeply committed to the safety of its guests" and was "horrified to learn of this incident."
"We require that our franchisees have policies, procedures, and training in place to help hotel employees identify and report any suspected cases of human trafficking," the hotel franchise said. "As soon as the local hotel staff was made aware of this crime, they assisted local law enforcement on this investigation and will continue to do so. As an organization we will continue to work tirelessly to make sure crimes like this do not happen at any of our hotels. Our thoughts are with the victim and her family during this extremely difficult time."
This article has been updated to include a statement from Extended Stay America.