MUSKEGON COUNTY. — The mother of a Florida teenager is speaking out after her daughter was taken by a 24-year-old man, along with two other teenagers, all the way up to a motel in Muskegon.
FOX 17 is only using their first names in our coverage in an effort to minimize any further trauma.
Ann and her 14-year-old daughter Gianna, along with two other children, live in the Tampa area of Florida.
Gianna was last seen leaving her home on Monday, January 24 around 5:30 p.m. on the family's security camera.
Ann received a text message from her daughter saying "I love You.
“It was just very odd," Ann explained to FOX 17 Wednesday afternoon. "So I was like, Okay, I love you too. I hope everything's okay.”
In her gut though, Ann knew everything was not okay. When Gianna's 8:30 p.m. curfew came and went, she began contacting all of her daughter's friends and their parents.
“Her friend started to get scared," she said. "She's like, I overheard her mentioning something about going to Michigan... I'm like, Michigan in January? There's no way, there's no way!”
Her alarm bells reached their peak after another friend said she "saw her in the car with another girl who she’s never recognized before, and a man... and when I heard the word man, most 15-year-olds don't say man, unless it's much older.”
Ann filed a missing persons report with local law enforcement in Florida.
“You're told just give it 24 hours... they don't want to scare you, but as a parent, you know your child, and you know what's normal, and not normal."
Ann's family typically uses the Life 360 tracking app, but because Gianna's phone was turned off, it wasn't showing her location. Luckily, Ann had set herself up as a backup on her daughter's iPhone.
“At 2:00 in the morning, it was pinging to Tennessee… at 6:00 in the morning, it pinged Indiana, and then I started to get really, really worried at that point.”
She was able to take this new geolocation data to investigators, who then accelerated their efforts to look for Gianna and the other teens.
“So the detective was able to ping them in Michigan at a gas station, and I was like, Oh my gosh,” she explained.
At this point, Ann plastered her daughter's info across social media to see if people on the ground in West Michigan could assist in locating her.
“I had probably 100 People from Muskegon to contact reach out to me," she said.
“Wednesday morning, around 6:00 a.m., I got another ping to my phone, and that was at the hotel in Michigan.”
It apparently took Fruitpoort Police 2 visits to the Muskegon County motel before the desk clerk was able to direct them to the appropriate room.
Police soon found Gianna and the two other teens safe in a room, still with the 24-year-old man, Jeannel Louiral of Orlando.
Louiral is now facing charges of accosting and soliciting minors for immoral purposes, harboring runaways, and contributing to the delinquency of minors. He is also facing multiple drug charges.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also reportedly looking into the situation for possible additional charges.
“I know that there's this idea out there that... one sees a white van in the parking lot of the big box store, we need to protect children... and certainly, kidnapping can be a form of access to a victim," explained Assistant Attorney General Kelly Carter, who is also chair of the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission.
"Traffickers want to make money, they're conducting business... and frankly, that's not a good business model for them."
Gianna is now home in Tampa with her family, recovering from the terrifying ordeal. Her mom believes at this point that her daughter went with the man because of her concern for one of the other teenage girls already with him.
“She said she got in the car because she was actually nervous for her friend to be in the car... she didn't know the other two people. It was very impromptu, it wasn't planned,” her mom explained.
Carter says young people who end up in these types of situations will often believe they are there of their own free will when truly they are not.
“What we see often in these circumstances, is it's posed to the victim by the trafficker as if they're choosing it, and in fact, that might be a method of manipulation,“ she said.
Carter recommends that parents act much in the same way that Ann did— monitor what social media platforms your kids use, how they use them, know their friends, and know how to contact them in case of an emergency.
“Most people are just not aware of what is happening, like the trauma of it all... Because she wants to tell me she was safe, she had it handled.... and at the same time, she's like, I was so scared," Ann said.
"It doesn't end when they come home... there's a piece that needs to be taken care of, so they're not traumatized from it.”