DALLAS — When news alerts started going out about a missing 15-year-old girl who'd left a Dallas Mavericks game with a strange man, Dr. Tonya Stafford-Manning said she read straight through the limited details police were able to give in the case.
"I knew," Stafford-Manning said. "It spelled human trafficking. This is it. This is how it goes. This is human trafficking."
The North Richland Hills teen disappeared on April 8. Police found her in Oklahoma City 10 days later, after finding commercial sex ads online that featured photos of her.
"There’s no telling what they said to her," Stafford-Manning said. "There’s no telling what they offered her, or if they had been communicating with her online.”
Stafford-Manning's organization, It's Going to be Ok!, rescues and houses victims of sex trafficking. Stafford-Manning is also a survivor.
“You get a lot of traffic through Oklahoma and Houston, so I’m not surprised about where they found her, or the hotel," said Stafford-Manning.
Court documents provided to WFAA, show eight people were arrested in the case, including a man charged with trafficking. He reportedly booked multiple hotel rooms in the area recently.
“It’s in plain sight. You see it every day. You just don’t know that you’re looking at it," said Agent John Perez, who leads the North Texas Trafficking Task Force.
Both he and Stafford-Manning said traffickers are using social media to target young people as potential victims. Stafford-Manning said large events are also hotspots and as they start to become more frequent, following the start of the pandemic, it's crucial to be aware.
“We have a client right now who was trafficked through South by Southwest," Stafford-Manning said. "You can blend in. Just like we’re dropping our children off, they’re dropping their people off as well to scout and see who’s the most vulnerable.”
Perez said he holds training with students to help identify trafficking and what it looks like on social media. Stafford-Manning trains law enforcement, medical professionals and social service staff to know the signs.
Both said everyone, especially parents, are crucial in stopping crimes like these from happening.
"Somebody saw something," Stafford-Manning said. "Pay attention for what doesn't look right. Did they do a double take? Are they looking at you? I'd rather say something and be wrong, than be right and not say anything."
As for parents, the extra attention to detail goes a long way.
“I don’t want to instill fear, but more of that sense of responsibility," Perez said. "You can still let your child have privacy while you’re still protecting them.”
"Make sure they have their location on," Stafford-Manning said. "If they’re in a group, make sure you know everybody that’s in that group.”