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Parents speak out after their 15-year-old disappeared from a Mavericks game with sex traffickers

Parents of 15-year-old trafficked from AAC speak out
Parents of 15-year-old trafficked from AAC speak out 06:31

DALLAS (CBSNewsTexas) - Nearly a year has passed since a North Texas girl disappeared from a Mavericks game, only to be found days later with sex traffickers. Now the girl's parents are sharing details of how it happened in hopes of preventing another family from the same crime. While Kyle and Brooke Morris are going public, CBS News Texas agreed to keep their daughter's identity private.

It was April 8, 2022. The Mavs were hosting the Portland Trail Blazers; Kyle Morris and his daughter went to the game, like they had many times before. Their season tickets were in section 221, just below the suites. Morris said just before halftime his daughter left her seat. "She says she's got to go to the bathroom, and I'm like, okay," said Morris. "She's 15 years old, we've been here countless times."

That would be the last time Morris would see her that night. The Morrises said security cameras at the AAC captured what happened next. "Less than two minutes after she gets up and walks out, the guy up in the suite goes out and goes down the escalator," said Kyle.

Dallas Police Department

The couple said their daughter's memory of exactly what happened is spotty because she was heavily drugged for the next week and a half. They said she remembers catching the eye of a man in the suite, who motioned to her to come out and meet him. Brooke said her daughter didn't realize she would need a ticket to get back to her section.

They said surveillance video also showed two men walking and talking with their daughter. Brooke Morris said the girl was lured out of the building under false pretenses. "It was along the lines of, let's hang out for the rest of the game until it ends, then you can go back up to your dad."

The Morrises said other surveillance cameras captured the trio walking into a parking garage. They said several minutes passed before they came back out, with video showing a noticeable change in their daughter. "Her sweatshirt was gone, her body language was very closed off," said Kyle. They say their daughter was raped while in the garage.

Back in section 221, Kyle Morris said he was panicking. He flagged down security officers, including an off-duty DPD officer. They searched the building but did not find her. "I'm just counting on these security officers to tell me what to do," said Kyle. "I didn't know what to say, I didn't know what to do. I was following directions."

Those directions were to report the 15-year-old as a runaway - not in Dallas, but where the family lived, 30 miles away in North Richland Hills.

"I remember when he told me that he was going to go home," said Brooke. "There was a part of me that was like, why? Why would you go home? And he said, well that's what the police told me to do."

The Dallas Police Department told the I-Team that it is standard operating procedure for parents to report runaways to their home jurisdiction.

"Say we lived in Houston. Say we lived in a different state and we're just in town," said Brooke. "They literally would have had us go file with our local."

"But it didn't happen in North Richland Hills," said Kyle. "These individuals were not in North Richland Hills; they were in Dallas."

North Richland Hills PD took the couple's report and reached out to DPD and the AAC to get more information. Still, there was no sign of the girl. After a week, a friend reached out to Brooke via Facebook with a suggestion. "[She said] hey if you don't have any leads, call this guy, he can definitely help you."

That guy was JB Rice, the executive director of the Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative. The nonprofit is based in Houston and focuses on finding missing teenagers who are at risk of being exploited and trafficked. The I-Team agreed not to show his face to protect his ongoing investigations.

Brooke Morris said she called him late on Friday, April 15. "He goes, send me a couple pictures of her," she said. "And he goes, 'I'm going to look into this, and I'll call you back in if I find anything.' And I said 'OK, thank you so much.' Didn't even think I'd hear from him."

But she did. He called back just a few hours later saying he'd found photos of the girl online. "I looked at the face in the photos," said Rice. "[There were] some similar features but it wasn't super obvious to me that it was definitely her."

Rice directed Brooke to a website known for advertising prostitution. "And he's like, look here, and I did. And there she was. My jaw just fell to the floor."

Rice had found the girl by combing through prostitution ads online. He started in Dallas, then moved onto other large cities nearby. He'd found her in an ad in Oklahoma City that said, "I am here from Dallas visiting looking for some company." According to the ad, she was 21.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation

"And he said, this is actually a good thing," said Brooke. "And I said, how is this a good thing? This is the most terrible thing I've ever seen in my life. And he said, because I know where she's at and I know how to get ahold of her."

Rice told the Morrises to pack a bag and head for Oklahoma City while he called police there. He said by a stroke of luck he reached a lieutenant overnight who had once been part of the OKCPD Vice unit. "Within three hours they were able to figure out which hotel it was and plan an operation to go in and recover her - within three hours!" said Kyle. "Mind you, this has now been a full week since the situation happened [and] Dallas police still hasn't event taken a report."

Officers in Oklahoma City pulled surveillance video showing the girl had been there, but she wasn't in the room when they arrived. "They called and said, 'we didn't get her.' And I about fell apart," said Brooke. "In my head I'm thinking, not only did they not get her, now whoever she's with knows the police are onto them, so now she's probably in even more danger."

The couple said the next few days were the most difficult, as they waited for the police to find her. "That evening as it started getting dark, that was the first night that I looked out of the hotel room over Oklahoma City and was like, my baby is out there," said Brooke.

It would be another two days before an officer spotted her walking down the street with a group of people. "He didn't put two and two together at the time," said Brooke. "But he said she stuck out like a sore thumb." They said the others scattered when the officer started asking questions.

The officer took her to the hospital, where the family reunited for the first time in ten days. Brooke said her daughter was shocked to see them come through the door. "And I said, 'did you not think I would come for you?' And she said 'no, I just didn't think you knew where I was,'" said Brooke. "And that's when I found out, she only had just found out she was in Oklahoma in the previous 24 hours."

"As soon as I walked in, she just started sobbing," said Kyle. "All I saw was our four-year-old little girl laying in that bed. I hugged her and she hugged me, and she said, 'Daddy, they hurt me.'"

The Morrises said their daughter told them a little about what happened to her. The teen said one of the men who was arrested by Oklahoma City PD had told her to take off her dress. When she refused, she said he hit her and knocked her out. "She had braces on at the time, and it really sliced up the inside of her mouth," said Brooke. "She had no idea what happened, but she woke up in a different area with different clothes on."

OKCPD arrested four people in connection with their daughter's case. Three have been convicted and are serving jailtime; the fourth is awaiting trial.

Dallas PD eventually took a report from the Morrises in October 2022. In late January, the department announced the arrest of Emanual Cartagena, 33. He is charged with child sexual assault. He has not yet entered a plea and his attorney told CBS News Texas he had no comment on the case.

Ten days of trauma in April 2022 has forever changed their daughter, said the Morrises. "She's really a different person," said Brooke. Now they are hoping to save other teenagers from the same fate.

"Just be where you're supposed to be - where your parents think you're supposed to be," said Brooke. "Because these things can get so far out of your realm of control in an instant. Something that you think you have full control and power over - i.e., where you are, where you're going - in an instant it becomes completely outside your control, and you have no idea what's going on."

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