Earlier in October a Klein Collins High School student from Harris County went missing. The case spread like crazy on social media. The Harris County Sheriff’s Dept. was out in full force. They were focusing in a wooded area and by the next morning the teen was found. She admitted to taking off with her boyfriend and sleeping in the woods because she was overwhelmed by school. A few days later another case pops up out up Harris County. This time Anthony Porch who is only 13. It caught my attention because it showed he went missing in September and here it was the middle of October and I was just hearing about it. I was curious. Why did one Harris County teen get so much attention, but Porch’s case, not so much.
Private Investigator Amber Cammack, from Harris County was also doing research on missing Anthony Porch. As she searched for information on him, she came across many more cases of missing children from Spring, Texas on the Harris County Sheriff’s Dept. website (HCSO). Sadly, they have a category called “Runaways” which is the first time I have ever seen this before. To me, and most missing advocates, the label of runaway seems to mean throwaway, because those cases are very rarely worked by LEO, as they just wait for the child to return on their own. Statistically, there is an over 95 percent chance that a teen will come home on their own, which accounts for that attitude. As I went through the website looking for information, I found that Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) had posted 19 missing children cases from the ages of 10-15 that have gone missing from Spring, Texas alone.
“All are missing from Spring, TX area. I am not sure what’s more disturbing, the growing number of kids missing in Spring, or the fact most these missing children don’t have photos [on HCSO’s website]? said Amber. “In this day an age, how do we not at least put a face on these kids?”
Here is a break down of those cases out of Spring:
- Matthew Lamb, 14, missing from Spring since Oct. 14, 2016 (Photo)
- Geoffrey Brice, 13, missing from Spring since Oct. 14, 2016 (no photo)
- Deandre Jones-Price, 15, missing from Spring since Oct. 16, 2016 (No photo)
- Noah Dale Jackson, 15, missing from Spring since Oct. 12, 2016 (No Photo)
- Colton Simmons-O’brien, 15, missing from Spring since Oct. 8 2016 (No photo)
- Jose Betancourt, 16, missing since Sept. 22, 2016 from Spring (No Photo)
- Anna Mercedes Villatoro, 16, missing from Spring since Sept. 23, 2016 (photo)
- Danielle Garcia, 17, missing from Spring since August 1, 2016 (photo)
- Amador Maldonado, 17, missing from Spring since June 28, 2016 (no photo)
- Desiree Mejia, 15, missing from Spring since June 27, 2016 (photo)
- Cesar Solis, Jr, 17, missing from Spring since June 25, 2016 (no photo)
- Shamer Devion Johnson, 14, missing from Spring since May 21, 2016 (no photo)
- Jonathan Kurgenberger, 16, missing from Spring since May 17, 2016.
- Angela Gutierrez, 17, missing from Spring since May 15, 2016 (Photo)
- Freddy Gutierrez, 16, missing from Spring since May 10, 2016
- Jacob Eric Sanchez, 16, missing from Spring since April 14, 2016.
- Ever Janata Cartagena, 17, missing from Spring since April 21, 2016 (photo)
- Desiree Zamora, 15, missing from Spring since April 27, 2016.
- Kaylee Allison, 18, missing from Spring since Dec 8, 2014.
Looking at the list you are seeing all these names for the 2016 and one case in 2014. Does that mean no one is missing from 2015?
Even more alarming is the number of teens in the “Runaway” category on the website missing from Harris County. The grand total for Harris County in 2016 is 253 teens missing and unaccounted for.
One of the things that were discovered by Cammack is that many of these kids were in foster homes. When teens in foster care go missing it is up to the child protective services to report it to the police, that is if the foster family reports it to them, otherwise they don’t know until they go to check on the missing teen which could be months before that happens.
While doing research on foster care and teens I found an article by azCentral posted on Oct. 20, 2016 called “Four teen girls added in 2015 to Arizona’s list of missing children” article. They reported, “Of the more than 11,800 endangered runaways reported in 2015, 20 percent were likely victims of child trafficking, according to NCMEC. And of those, 74 percent were in the care of social services when they went missing.” Let me repeat that, 74 percent were under the care of social services. It is not known how many of these missing teens were in foster care in Spring at this writing.
These children, as CPS will classify them, were removed from their home, in most cases and put into foster care for their protection, but we have to wonder how well that is working if the child just goes missing after that. And we are not talking about a quarter missing or half, but ¾ of them are unaccountable for.
Frontline Investigations Lead Private Investigator Mac Sanford explained the difference between Arizona and Texas. ““A lot of AZ’s problem is the proximity those foster kids are to the border, and the number of those Foster kids that simply go live with relatives back in Mexico,” said Sanford. “The Foster family doesn’t report them missing, because that would stop the checks. When they finally get audited for a home visit, and are forced to admit that the child is gone, the child is out of reach of US jurisdiction in most cases.”
Cammack agrees that the proximity to the border has something to do with it but believes it has more to do with the police department itself and their neglect to the cases is actually contributing to the situation.
“Bottom line children are missing and cases are neglected. I have zero respect for anyone that ignores the children in our community. Houston has made number one for human trafficking this year, and our MD only has three untrained detectives but has the funding for more,” said Cammack. “Where is the money?..we have an overwhelming number of parentless/voiceless missing foster children without even a photo up.”
What Cammack is referring to is a plethora of case files with no photos, and little description and no distribution to the public on HCSO’s website. Also, although in it’s infancy as we do our research, there seems to be none listed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCM&EC) the gold standard for missing children databases. Although, as of yesterday Cammack did report that there were over 100 cases submitted to NCM&EC over the last few days. Also, I reported while writing about Anthony Porch last week, there was not one missing person flyer put up on Harris County Sheriff’s Facebook page in October and only one for an adult on September, 27. I didn’t go back any farther than that. In a perfect world all these boxes would be checked but more importantly all these cases would be on the government’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Since this database is ONLY accessible by law enforcement, we have no way of checking to see if all these missing cases were put into NCIC.
What is sex trafficking?
There are two major types of sex trafficking, the one with unknown groups of men and woman that sneak people from other countries into the US in exchange for them working off the debt as a prostitute, and two, the children, teens and young adults that are lured by online ads or grabbed off the streets and locked up in a motel room as a prisoner and forced into prostitution. I did not have any idea that it was going on in the United States till I talked with Ty Ritter of Project Child Save.
A few years later, I had personal experience with a case. A teen went missing and through a tip I was told where she was. After tracking down her mom, and giving her the information, she was able to take that information to the police who took the tip seriously and found the teen where the tip said she would be; locked up in a motel room while a pimp brought in men for a price to rape her. Gone are the days where a pimp has a woman walking the streets, now they are just grabbing teens off the street, sticking them in a motel room, and keeping them there for months. Child sex trafficking has become a $42 billion a year industry, and it is not likely to slow down, it is just too profitable.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been working hard on stopping sex trafficking in Houston.
In October, his Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime unit that began in January was instrumental in arresting Carl Ferrer, the head of BackPage.com. He was taken into custody in Houston following allegations that adult and child sex-trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads posted on the BackPage site. Paxton has also started training sessions statewide to educate primarily truck drivers on how to spot sex trafficking. But I am wondering if he knows about the missing Spring teens. We do know that Paxton did offer assistance on one missing teen case, Ali Lowitzer. According to Ali’s mother Jo Ann Lowitzer, “The Texas Attorney Generals Office contact HCSO to offer assistance on Ali’s case. They were turned down. So was NCMEC.” NCMEC is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
What could possibly be HCSO’s reason to turn down an offer like that?
Is there a link between missing foster kids and sex trafficking?
Houston is the fourth largest city in Texas and the number one on the U.S. top twenty human trafficking jurisdictions in the county. In the 2014 document, “Modern Day Slavery,” it stated the high number of runaways (there’s that label again) “contribute to the staggering amount of underage minors in the slave trades.” The National Runaway Hotline states that “One out of every three children that run away is lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home.”
Since this is information that law enforcement should know in Houston, why are so many of these cases of missing teens left faceless on the HCSO website? Why is every single teen that is missing on the HCSO website under the category “Runaways?” Although annoying it is a very much used catch-all expression that law enforcement uses for teens, but this is the first time I have seen it used as a category on a law enforcement website.
Right now there is no known information if these particular missing kids may be involved in the one thing Paxton is trying to get rid of. Even if it ends up there is no connection with foster children and sex trafficking it could be that someone is harboring them and that is still against the law.
Cammack and Sanford both are frustrated and have stated they know all too well the frustration of gathering information while pursuing a missing case only to have it ignored by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
“We hand them names, video, audio confessions, license plate numbers, and locations, yet they won’t even take the evidence, so the trafficking rings keep operating, unobstructed!!” said Sanford.
Cammack believes the little attention to HCSO’s “runaways,” are making the whole situation worse.
“Once again, Houston shitty missing persons department is a huge reason why child predators and sex trafficker love it here,” said Cammack. “If I was a bad guy I would love Houston, too!!”
These children need to be found, each and every one of them, not only because it is the humane thing to do, but because we need to find out what happened to them. Law Enforcement Agency’s can no longer assume a missing teen is a runaway, and a more thorough investigation needs to be done if we are going to erratic sex trafficking.
“No one can assume that a teen is a runaway anymore with the rapid growth of sex trafficking,” Missing Persons of America.
This is one thing that missing foster teens in Spring don’t have, that the missing teen from Klein Collins High School had, is a family to champion for them. Once the child goes into the foster system, the parental rights are taken away, and it’s up to CPS to report them missing to the police. The teen does not have a family fighting for them and they are relying on CPS and law enforcement to do that. BUT, if they are not doing it, the child is lost in the system. Such as the case of missing 10-year-old Alexi Urbina who is in the foster system. She has been missing since 2011 and you probably like me never heard about her before. Sadly, HCSO has not provided a photo of her, nor much of a case history, so creating a flyer and sharing her information is stymied by that.
Although the odds were stacked up against teens in Spring this year, the odds have shifted this week with the crusading of Mac Sanford and Amber Cammack, who has already seen an increase of missing children cases from Houston being put on the NCMEC website since Amber has brought this to everyone’s attention.
“Our gripe is not with the three Detectives in the entire HCSO that are assigned to handle “Runaways,” as they are automatically categorized,” said Sanford. “Our gripe is that the county was budgeted enough money to have twenty-three more detectives handling these cases, yet aren’t, and the only 3 assigned to work them aren’t given any resources or tools to do anything but essentially take the report. Those 3 are so overwhelmed that they aren’t even inputing those reports fully or correctly, so the missing child then falls through the cracks.”
HCSO is overwhelmed with all the cases and the first thing they should do is reach out to AG Paxton and ask for his help, but since they already turned down Paxton offer for help before, that may not happen.