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DALLAS, Texas (KFOR) – The family of a Texas girl who was found in the midst of a sex trafficking scheme in Oklahoma City back in April is now speaking out through their attorney.

It was April 8 when the 15-year-old girl was seen leaving a Dallas Mavericks basketball game with an unknown man.

Authorities say she went to the restroom alone and never returned to her seat.

Zeke Fortenberry of Fortenberry Firm PLLC, who represents her parents, says the father went to look for her after she did not return and immediately notified American Airlines Center (AAC) security, staff, and Dallas Police officers of her disappearance.

“By the time the Mavericks game ended, his daughter had not been found, and the father was instructed by authorities he should return to his home,” said Fortenberry. “For the next several days, the family repeatedly called the Dallas Police Department to help locate their daughter. Dallas Police never began an investigation and failed to make any efforts to locate the teenage girl.”

The father said, “My daughter went missing in the city of Dallas, this is a Dallas case, but they refused to open a case for her.”

After 6 days, the family contacted the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative who discovered the 15-year-old’s nude photos were posted on a website known for prostitution.

That same day, Oklahoma City Police Department’s Vice Unit received tips from the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative that the teen was trafficked for sex purposes in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City Police were able to locate the victim who was being held at an Extended Stay America hotel – ultimately making arrests and recovering the victim on Monday, April 18, 2022.

“We are thankful for the work of the Oklahoma City Police Department and the recovery of our daughter,” said the child’s mother. “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 towards her recovery.”

During the course of the investigation, eight people were arrested in connection to the girl’s disappearance and trafficking.

Mugshots of eight arrested in sex trafficking case
Top row, from left to right: Steven Hill, Karen Gonzales, Sarah Hayes, Thalia Gibson Bottom row, from left to right: Shaniya Alexander, Chevaun Gibson, Melissa Wheeler, Kenneth Nelson

Now, the family says many of the institutions involved could have done more to save their daughter.

The family’s representation alleges the man who lured the teenage girl from the Mavericks game did not have a valid ticket and the fraudulent ticket he did have was provided by someone known to sell fake tickets.

“The Dallas Mavericks and the AAC failed to protect the victim from the man with the illegal ticket in a restricted area,” said Fortenberry.

Fortenberry goes on to say the Dallas Police Department failed to act.

“Despite being immediately notified of the teenager’s disappearance within minutes of it occurring at the AAC, the Dallas Police Department refused to investigate the case,” said Fortenberry. “The family continuously called the Dallas Police Department to seek their assistance but were never given any help to find their daughter. In fact, the Dallas Police Department never asked for a photograph of her.”

Court documents revealed the teen was in the company of one of the suspects, convicted sexual predator Kenneth Nelson, and he was in a hotel with the victim the same day her naked pictures were posted online. 

“This girl is a juvenile, and she was in the company of sex traffickers,” said Knight. “And that raises red flags and alarms in our minds.”

Police also stated Nelson used an Oklahoma Identification Card with someone else’s name (a real person who lives in Oklahoma) to purchase hotel rooms.

“Extended Stay America failed to implement safety and security protocols to protect the teenage victim and ignored clear signs of human trafficking,” said Fortenberry.

Karen Gonzales, Sarah Hayes, and Kenneth Nelson.
Karen Gonzales, Sarah Hayes, and Kenneth Nelson.

According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by KFOR, Karen Gonzales was the person taking pictures of the teen undressed and posting them online.

Court documents also stated that Sarah Hayes admitted to police that she was present when the photos were taken and later used them for the online ads.

“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. 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.”

Zeke Fortenberry, Attorney

It’s still unclear how the other five suspects are involved.

“There were several people involved with not only this girl, but others,” said Knight. “But we did everything we could to find this girl.”