While parked in a dark New Mexico rest area on June 18, the driver, who would only identify himself as “Michael,” says he saw a pickup truck pull up at around 1 a.m. A man and woman emerged from the vehicle and went to the back of the truck, where a padlocked cage was sitting under a tarp. They then unlocked the cage, and several children came out, who were then herded into the bathrooms by the woman before being guided back into the cage and locked up again.
“This truck pulls up, opens up the back. It’s like a cage-looking thing… That guy and this lady have a whole bunch of kids in the back of that truck… And then they take the padlock off, raise the tarp, and all these kids come out the back, and they’re forcing them into the bathroom,” Michael said, describing what he saw.
“When they come back out, they were pushing the kids back in there, locked them back in there, and pulled the f-ing tarp down.”
He was so disturbed by what he saw that he called 911, even though it is out of character for him. He said that he was concerned about the possibility of human trafficking and wanted to be on the safe side. However, when the couple saw him talking on the phone and trying to look at their license plate number, they started to leave.
He said the police on the phone instructed him to follow them to the best of his ability until units could respond, although this proved challenging given the limitations of his truck and its slow top speed compared the kidnappers’ vehicle.
Nevertheless, he was able to provide police with information that proved crucial for locating the kidnappers and identifying them.
Although he initially saw just a few children get out to use the bathroom, there ended up being around 15 involved in total. He said: “In the cage, there were hammocks with kids draped across the top, and the entire bottom of the cage was filled with children.”
Michael estimated that the little girls he saw might have been around 3 or 4 years old. It turned out that several of the children had already been reported missing. The father of two said that the incident left him emotionally distraught.
Michael was honored last week by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), who named him a “Highway Angel” for chasing down the human traffickers and rescuing the children. The program recognizes drivers who show courage, courtesy and kindness on the job.
One of the most unsettling aspects of this story is the fact that Michael said the police informed him that “this kind of thing happens all the time.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 364 different human trafficking incidents reported in New Mexico alone in 2021, which is almost one per day. Unfortunately, this crime is under-reported, and it can be difficult to identify victims of human trafficking. Experts have emphasized the importance of looking out for the signs of human trafficking and reporting any possible incidents to authorities or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
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