14-year-old Leah and her family live in a small town in the mountains of California. Late one night, last July, Leah snuck out of the house and ran away. After she left her house, and before her parents even knew she was gone, two men who lived in the neighborhood pulled up in a pickup and offered to give her a ride. Leah jumped in. She wasn’t thinking about what might come next; she only knew she was tired of her parents’ strict rules, and she wanted to get out of town. The men were kind, the truck was comfortable, and she didn’t care much where they were headed. She rested her head on the seat back and fell asleep.
When Leah woke up, she found herself in a town she did not recognize, where the men who had driven her introduced her to a 24-year-old man who went only by the name “Mateo”. Still tired, and by this time feeling a little confused about where she was, Mateo told her she could stay at his place. “Get in the car,” he said, and gently guided her into the front seat and closed the door.
Mateo lived in a one-story house with a small addition with two windows that were covered in plywood. One main room off the kitchen was lit by fluorescent lights and filled with marijuana plants almost to the ceiling. Mateo led her through the kitchen and down a hallway to a small bedroom with only a stained mattress on the floor. He pulled out a joint, held it in front of her face, and told her to smoke it.
Leah now believes the marijuana had other drugs in it too because after smoking it she found herself unable to make decisions or to stop anything from happening. Once in the room, and after she’d smoked the marijuana, Mateo began to rape her . At some point an older man came in and asked her questions about her family and where they lived. Even now, she doesn’t remember exactly how she responded, only that he took her to the bathroom and held her head under water so long that she thought she was going to drown. He kept telling her that if he or Mateo ever got arrested bad things would happen to her family.
Leah was raped daily by multiple men and made to take drugs and alcohol for five days straight, but somehow, even though she was under the influence of heavy drugs and alcohol, she was able to get out of the house before being caught and find a ride to safety.
The police took a missing person’s report after Leah ran away from home, but hadn’t continued to investigate the case. They filed her case as a ‘runaway’. Leah’s family contacted Special Operations and told us that after much therapy she wants to tell the story of what she went through and hopefully help bring Mateo and the other man to justice. Special Operations sent Investigators to interview Leah and begin an investigation in hopes of identifying the men. The house full of marijuana with the boarded-up windows was located, and we have turned over the case to the Department of Justice to prosecute. Leah is safe, and Special Operations will continue to track this case until Mateo and his friend are prosecuted and convicted.