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by JASON WHITELYBio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely
Posted on May 14, 2013 at 9:22 PM
Updated Tuesday, May 14 at 10:48 PM
Nimitz High School
IRVING — Arrests in human trafficking cases are rare, and to charge a teenager with the crime is even more unusual.
"It's very disturbing any time a situation like this occurs, but a 17-year-old suspect is a little more disturbing," said Irving police spokesman Ofc. John Argumaniz.
Officers arrested Travis Lekas, 17, near his home on Monday. He faces three felony charges, including human trafficking; compelling prostitution; and sexual performance by a child.
Investigators said Lekas drugged a 15-year-old classmate two weeks ago with Alprazolam, marijuana and alcoholic beverages, and wouldn't let her leave for three days.
In that period, according to the affidavit against him, Lekas let men have sex with the girl "in exchange for U.S. currency and narcotics."
Now police want to know whether he advertised her — and to whom.
"We want to find out how these men were made aware of her being at his residence and come to his home, so there are things we're still trying to backtrack and find out how that happened," Ofc. Argumaniz added.
But investigators discovered this might not be an isolated incident.
"Our investigators have received information that he attempted to recruit other young girls into prostitution or committing prostitution acts," Argumaniz said.
Irving police accuse Lekas of trying to recruit other girls from Nimitz High School and even younger ones at Bowie Middle School.
The suspect's grandmother told News 8 his accuser is lying. She was always visiting their home, Lekas' grandmother said, and would not leave her grandson alone.
Police haven't ruled out making other arrests or filing additional charges against the teenage suspect, who is jailed on $175,000 bond.
Investigators are looking for the men who paid to have sex with the girl, and are trying to determine whether there are other victims.
Irving Independent School District said it is cooperating fully with an active police investigation.
"We are treating this matter very seriously," Superintendent Dana T. Bedden said in a written statement. "It is our responsibility as a school district to enable the Irving Police Department to conduct a thorough investigation, and until they have completed their investigation, we will not be able to share any additional details. We will cooperate fully with the Irving Police Department and will take appropriate disciplinary action with regard to the student in question. We will provide counseling and other support to any student who may be affected by this investigation. We will also keep our parents informed of the situation as more details are presented."
Cleveland (CNN) -- The man accused of kidnapping three Cleveland women and holding them for close to a decade abused all of them but used captive Michelle Knight as his main "punching bag," a family friend of one of the victims told CNN.
From Pamela Brown, CNN
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
Your video will begin momentarily.
- NEW: "They're the true heroes here," officer says about kidnapped women
- Knight said she became pregnant at least five times while held captive
- Ariel Castro starved and punched her until she miscarried, she told investigators
- Castro intends to plead not guilty, his attorneys tell CNN affiliate WKYC
The friend said suspect Ariel Castro hit Knight with a variety of objects, including hand weights. She has suffered vision loss, joint and muscle damage, and other problems from her time in captivity.
Castro, 52, was jailed on charges of kidnapping and rape after one of the women, Amanda Berry, escaped from the home with the aid of neighbors on May 6.
Knight, 32, stayed in the hospital for several days after the other two women left. She has released a statement saying she's doing well.
"I am healthy, happy and safe and will reach out to family, friends and supporters in good time," Knight said.
According to an initial incident report obtained by CNN, the three women told police Castro had abducted them between 2002 and 2004, held them captive and sexually assaulted them.
The family friend said Castro treated Berry slightly better than the other two women and Knight was treated the worst. All three women were underweight, the friend said.
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Berry gave birth to a daughter fathered by Castro, according to DNA testing by the Ohio state crime lab.
Knight said she became pregnant at least five times while in Castro's 1,400-square-foot home, according to the incident report.
When that happened, she told investigators, Castro "starved her for at least two weeks, then he repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried."
Knight said he ordered her to deliver Berry's child, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.
The baby was delivered in a plastic tub or pool in order to contain the afterbirth and amniotic fluid, the source said.
Panic ensued soon after. The child stopped breathing, and everyone started screaming, the source said, citing accounts by the young women.
Knight said Castro threatened to kill her if the baby did not survive, the initial police report states.
"What's most incredible here is that this girl who knows nothing about childbirth was able to deliver a baby that is now a healthy 6-year-old," the police source said.
Castro intends to plead not guilty, his attorneys told CNN affiliate WKYC in an exclusive interview.
"I know the media wants to jump to conclusions and all the people in the community want to say terrible things about the person who's accused," attorney Jaye Schlachet told the station. "We are not even at the beginning of the process. If this was a marathon race, we're not even at the starting line yet."
Castro's defense team may seek to move the trial out of the Cuyahoga County to improve their client's chances for a fair trial, lawyer Craig Weintraub said.
He said Castro is "completely isolated from society" without access to television, radio or newspapers and is under suicide watch in a Cuyahoga County jail cell.
'They're the true heroes here'
On Wednesday, Cleveland police held a ceremony recognizing the work of officers who responded to the call at Castro's house.
Patrol Officer Anthony Espada recalled the emotion at the scene.
"It just took everything to hold everything together. I tried to do my best to broadcast all the information over the radio without actually breaking down because I was on the verge," he said.
"They were just so brave, going through all that for all those years. They're the true heroes here."
He said officers didn't think twice about going into the house.
According to the initial report, the women told investigators that they were chained in the basement but later were moved upstairs to rooms on the second floor. They were allowed out of the home only twice, and then just briefly.
Since their release, Knight and Gina DeJesus, the third captive, have talked on the phone at least once, according to a source who has been talking to all the victims' families and attorneys.
One of the them asked to speak with the other after they were freed, said the source.
The women are learning how to use new, and not-so-new, technology they missed out on during their years in captivity, the source said.
Who is Michelle Knight?
Knight's disappearance generated far less publicity and attention than did those of Berry and DeJesus, and a level of mystery still surrounds her case.
Cleveland police removed Knight's name from an FBI database of missing people in November 2003 -- 15 months after her family reported her missing -- police said. They did so after "failing to locate a parent, guardian or other reporting person to confirm that Ms. Knight was still missing."
Police said, though, that her missing person's case remained open and was checked on as recently as November 2012.
As of last week, her family still didn't know exactly where she was.
Knight hadn't spoken yet with her mother, Barbara, a family spokesperson said. In fact, Knight's family had no idea where she was and had asked police for information on her whereabouts.
What little is known about Knight's whereabouts comes from a source close to the investigation, who told CNN that Knight "is in a safe place and very comfortable." The source did not specify further.
There were reports that Knight was at the DeJesus home, and there was a lot of activity there Saturday morning, but Knight was not there.
The Knight family apparently has a fractured history.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Knight became pregnant and dropped out of school.
Her mother told the newspaper that she then became involved with an abusive man, who, she thinks, hurt her toddler grandson.
The incident reportedly kicked off "a chain of events that led Michelle to lose custody of the child."
Knight vanished soon after that, on a day she was set to make a court appearance in the custody case, Barbara Knight told the Plain Dealer.
Times weren't always so tough for Knight though.
Her mother recalled happier days, when her daughter had lots of friends and fed apples to a neighbor's pony.
She liked fire engines and art class.
After helping her mother deliver a litter of puppies, Knight decided she likely wanted to be a veterinarian, Barbara Knight told the Plain Dealer.
"I really miss her," she reportedly said. "She was my daughter, but she was also my friend. She tried to make the best of her life and wanted to finish school. She never got the chance to go back."
CNN's Dana Ford contributed to this report.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Young Nigerian women are usually lured to get pregnant with a promise of money, only for the babies to end up being. (File photo: Reuters)
AFP, Lagos -Nigerian police have found 17 pregnant teenage girls in a raid on a house, and were searching Friday for a woman suspected of planning to sell their babies, a spokeswoman said.
Joy Elomoko of the southeastern Imo state police said all the girls were between 14 and 17 years old and that 11 small children were also found in the house.
Some locals believed the building called the Ahamefula Motherless Babies Home served as an orphanage and shelter for expecting mothers.
“Acting on a tip-off, a special unit of the Imo State police command raided the illegal home in Umuaka on Wednesday and rescued 17 girls, aged between 14 and 17, at different stages of pregnancies,” Elomoko told AFP.
“The girls claimed they were fed once a day and were not allowed to leave the home,” she added.
The girls told police that their babies were to be sold to “willing buyers,” Elomoko said.
It was not clear if the girls were brought to the home by force.
The girls further told police that they had been impregnated by a 23-year-old man who is currently in custody, along with the security guard who worked at the compound.
“The proprietress of the home is at large, but we have launched a man-hunt for her,” Elomoko said.
In a human trafficking report released last month, the European Union identified Nigeria as the African country where the scourge is most common.
The report said the selling of children was widespread and Nigerian police have previously uncovered so-called baby factories.
In May of 2011 in southeastern Abia state, police freed 32 pregnant girls who said they had been offered to sell their babies for between 25,000 and 30,000 naira (191 dollars), depending on the sex of the baby.
Another 17 pregnant girls were discovered in southern Anambra state in October 2011 under similar circumstances.
The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO has previously identified human trafficking as the third most common crime in Nigeria, behind fraud and drug trafficking.
Monday, May 6, 2013
By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
May 4, 2013 -- Updated 1901 GMT (0301 HKT)
Missing mother was 'far from homeless'
- NEW: Heist has been jailed on a Santa Rosa County warrant
- Brenda Heist disappeared from her Pennsylvania home in 2002
- Heist turned herself in to police in Florida as a missing person
- She was distraught over an impending divorce and finances, a detective says
On Saturday, she remained jailed on a Santa Rosa County warrant for alleged violation of probation, forgery and giving a false name to law enforcement, said Art Forgey, a spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.
Heist, who used the assumed name Kelsie Lyanne Smith, is awaiting extradition, Forgey told CNN affiliate WJXT. She turned herself in Friday.
Heist, meanwhile, may not have spent most of those 11 years homeless, as she told police last week when she turned herself in, saying she'd abandoned her family because of stress.
Sondra Forrester says she knew Heist in 2010. At that time, Heist cleaned her Florida home and went by the name Lovey Smith.
"She actually moved in with me, moved in with me about six months after she started cleaning the house," Forrester told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" on Friday.
Daughter hopes mom 'rots in hell'
Missing mom's dramatic transformation
Son to mom: We did well after you left
Ex: I don't want to talk to runaway wife
Heist first came into her life through a neighbor, who recommended her when Forrester was looking for a housekeeper.
The neighbor had used her as a babysitter and spoke highly of her, she said.
At first, the two women shared small talk, but little more on Heist's weekly visit to clean.
But over time their conversations took on a different, more personal tone.
"She told me that she had a bad relationship with her boyfriend and I started to kind of feel bad for her," Forrester said. "She described it as sort of an abusive situation, saying that he was maybe an alcoholic and I just let her know that my door was always open for her. I felt bad for her."
Forrester asked more questions about Heist's past when she moved into the house, "but not a whole lot. But when I did ask, she made it clear that she never had kids and she didn't want any."
Heist also claimed to be a widow.
"She said she had been married for, like, 20 years to a man named Lee and he had worked for the Marriott and they had traveled around and visited amazing places and he had died," Forrester said.
After she moved in, bringing some belongings with her, Heist lived with her for 10 or 11 months.
She used the computer and cell phone, had a Facebook page and was on an internet dating site, Forrester said. "She had friends outside of me."
Heist's appearance then was nothing like the worn-down face shown in pictures taken after she turned herself in last week to authorities in Key Largo, Florida.
"I was absolutely shocked when I saw that photo," Forrester said. "She has deteriorated significantly since the last time she was seen around here, which was, you know, the middle of 2012, the end of 2012. That's not been very long, you know, seven months or so."
Another twist in the tale is that Heist had revealed her true last name to Forrester's son, with whom she became close while living in the family home.
He was around the same age as Heist's own son was when she abandoned her Pennsylvania family nearly a decade earlier.
Forrester had taken her son aside to tell him the truth about the woman he knew as "Miss Lovey," so that he wouldn't learn about it on the news. But he told her he already knew her last name was Heist.
"I was stunned that he knew that. But for a little boy, that's kind of a cool last name. I said, honey, how did you know that? 'Miss Lovey told me.' "
No family reunion
But while Heist was making friends and living an apparently normal life in Florida, the husband, son and daughter she'd left behind in 2002 continued to wonder whether something terrible had happened to her.
Police searched for her for years, at one point creating a cold case task force. Her family remain angry over the pain her disappearance caused.
"I don't think she deserves to see me," her 20-year-old daughter Morgan Heist told CNN's "Piers Morgan Live" on Thursday night. "I don't really have any plans on going to see her."
The fact that her mother -- who she last saw when she was 8 -- never even called has left her seething, Morgan Heist said.
The anger is captured in a post on the daughter's Twitter page that reads she hopes her mother "rots in hell."
"That makes me really mad," Morgan Heist said. "I can't believe she would do that because she was a good mom. She was great. But, I mean, I guess something happened. Something snapped in her. "
Her father, Lee Heist, said he is not planning on visiting his ex-wife anytime soon.
They were going through a divorce at the time she disappeared, and he was treated for a time as a suspect in her disappearance, though he was eventually cleared.
In 2010, he filed a petition with the county court to have Brenda declared legally deceased, according to a Lititz police news release. He was seeking closure, he said.
"I don't see where it would do any good for either of us to see her again," Lee Heist said.
He later remarried and said he will learn to forgive his former wife.
But for Morgan Heist, forgiving her mom may not be easy.
"I hope to eventually forgive her one day for myself, not for her," she said.
Left on a whim
Brenda Heist vanished in February 2002 after last being seen dropping off her children at school.
She was applying for housing assistance so that she could get an apartment after the breakdown of her marriage. She worked as a bookkeeper for a car dealer and hoped to receive some financial aid.
However, her request was denied, police said.
"She was very upset, she was sitting in a park crying, thinking about how she would raise her children, feeling sorry for herself," said Sgt. John Schofield, a Lititz Borough, Pennsylvania, police detective. He was one of the many officers who searched for Heist.
By her account, it wasn't long before she was approached by two men and a woman who asked her what was wrong. After she told them what had happened, they invited her to hitchhike with them down to Florida.
"At a whim, she decided at that very moment, she would go along with them," Schofield said.
Schofield spoke to Heist at length after she turned herself in.
"She was very emotional; she hung her head; she's ashamed. She was crying when I met with her. She knows what she did was completely wrong, but all that while, she'd never made one effort to call or contact her family at all," Schofield said.
Heist told police she spent the first two years homeless, living under bridges, eating food thrown out by restaurants after they closed.
For the next seven years, she lived in a camper with a man she had met. They made money as day laborers, cleaning boats and doing other odd jobs for which they didn't have to show ID and were paid in cash.
After that relationship soured, Schofield said, she said she lived on the street again for another two years.
But the revelations made by Forrester raise new questions over the truth of Heist's account.
"I don't think we know the full story yet," Schofield told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" on Friday.
"The facts are she left, she turned her back on her family. She started a new life down in Florida ... Whether she lived homeless or whether she lived a wonderful life as a live-in housekeeper, I don't think that was for the 11 years, that was just for the last few years here."
Schofield said Heist is still looking at charges for false IDs, thefts and possession of drugs and drugs paraphernalia in Florida. There also may be false ID and theft charges to face in Pennsylvania, he said.
She never suspected Heist of using drugs, Forrester said -- or she would not have allowed her near her family.
CNN's Laura Ly contributed to this report.
From Barbara Starr and Greg Seaby, CNN
May 7, 2013 -- Updated 0236 GMT (1036 HKT)
- NEW: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expresses "outrage and disgust" over the allegations
- The arrest comes as the Pentagon faces scrutiny over sex assaults in the ranks
- The officer was serving as a branch chief but has been removed from duty
- Police said a woman accused him of fondling her breasts, buttocks
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, has been removed from current duty, an Air Force official said Monday. The official declined to be named because it is an ongoing law enforcement matter.
Krusinski was placed in charge of a section of the service's sexual assault prevention and response program in February, running a five-person office, the Air Force official said.
He was arrested just after midnight Saturday in Arlington, Virginia, and is accused of grabbing a woman's breasts and buttocks, Arlington County police said. Police said the woman fought off her assailant when he tried to grab her again before she called authorities.
Krusinski was held on a $5,000 bond. Arlington County police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said the woman did not know her attacker.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discussed the matter Monday with Air Force Michael Donley, according to the Pentagon.
"Secretary Hagel expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively," said George Little, Pentagon press secretary.
Krusinski's arrest comes as the Pentagon has been under closer scrutiny from Congress over its handling of sexual assault cases in the uniformed services.
"Sexual assault and rape are not about the weakness of the victim, they're about power and control," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said at a March hearing on the issue. "In a military context, that becomes an even greater problem."
The Defense Department reported 3,192 allegations of sexual assault involving service members in 2011. It's expected to report an increase in 2012, but officials said that it is not clear whether that's due to an increasing number of incidents or because victims are becoming more comfortable in reporting a crime that is often not reported.
The department has stepped up efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, establishing a "special victims unit" to handle cases, working to improve tracking of reports and speeding transfers for troops who report a sexual assault by a member of their unit.
"Secretary Hagel has been directing the Department's leaders to elevate their focus on sexual assault prevention and response, and he will soon announce next steps in our ongoing efforts to combat this vile crime," Little said Monday. "Sexual assault has no place in the United States military."
May 7, 2013
May 7, 2013
Posted Tuesday, May 7 2013 at 06:36
Posted Tuesday, May 7 2013 at 06:36
Three young women who had been missing for a decade -- two of whom disappeared as teenagers -- were found alive in a house in Cleveland, police in the US state of Ohio said Monday.
The dramatic discovery drew hundreds of cheering people to the usually quiet, residential street to celebrate that girls, long feared dead, were very much alive.
The details of the trauma they may have suffered in captivity were not yet known, but it appeared that at least one of the girls had borne a child during her captivity.
The nightmare ended when Amanda Berry reached her arm through a crack in the front door and called for help.
"I heard screaming... And I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside of the house," Charles Ramsey told the local ABC news affiliate.
"I go on the porch, and she said 'Help me get out. I've been here a long time.'"
Ramsey said he tried to get her out through the door but could not pull it open, so he kicked out the bottom and she crawled through "carrying a little girl."
Berry went into a neighbouring home and called police, begging them to come as soon as they could "before he gets back."
"I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped. I've been missing for 10 years. I'm free. I'm here now," Berry said in the recording of her frantic call to 911.
She told the dispatcher that the man who had held her captive was called Ariel Castro. When police arrived she told them there were other captives in the home.
"All three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, seem to be in good health," Cleveland police said in a statement.
"A 52-year-old Hispanic male has been placed under arrest regarding this incident."
Berry was last seen on April 21, 2003 when she left work at a fast food restaurant that was just a few blocks from her home around 7:40 pm, according to the FBI. She was 16 when she disappeared.
Her mother, Louwanna Miller, reportedly died of heart failure in March 2006.
DeJesus was 14 when she vanished while walking home from school on April 2, 2004.
Knight, who was 21 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin's house on August 23, 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Kayla Rogers, 23, went to school with DeJesus and joined the crowd gathered near the house on Seymore Avenue where her friend had been held captive.
"They don't find people who go missing, you know," Rogers, 23, told the Plain Dealer.
"I'm at a loss for words."
Rogers said she only attended one vigil over the years, because it was too painful.
Neighbour Charlie Czorb said he was stunned by how long the women had lived at the house undetected.
"This is our own backyard," Czorba told the paper. "These girls were locked up in our own backyard."
Castro was described by neighbors as a friendly school bus driver and musician whose daughter would often come over with his grandchildren.
Tasheena Mitchell, 26, said she didn't believe her brother at first when he called to tell her that their cousin Amanda had been found alive.
She'd had her hopes dashed by false reports before. But this time, it was true. So she rushed to the hospital in hopes of confirming it with her own eyes.
"She was my best friend," Mitchell told the Plain Dealer.
A friend interrupted her, "She's alive. She is your best friend."
"You're right," Mitchell continued. "She is my best friend. I'm so nervous. I'm so excited. They won't let me inside. But I will stay here all night if I have to."
An emergency room doctor who treated the three women said they were in fair condition and were being evaluated.
"This isn't the ending we usually hear to these stories so we're very happy for them," Gerald Maloney told reporters.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said he was "thankful that these three young ladies are found and alive."
"We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing," Jackson said in a statement.
Police said they would provide more details at a press conference on Tuesday morning.
Saturday, May 4, 2013