DALLAS, Texas — On April 8, a 15-year-old girl from North Richland Hills went to a Dallas Mavericks game with her dad at the American Airlines Center.
She went to the bathroom right before halftime.
She never made it back to her seat.
Surveillance footage showed video of her leaving the arena with a man that night.
A week and a half later, on April 18, police found the teen in a hotel room in Oklahoma City after her parents identified her through nude photos that had been posted online in sex advertisements.
“She was gone missing a total of 11 days,” attorney Zeke Fortenberry told WFAA.
Fortenberry is representing the family in the ongoing case. Last week, he sent a letter to multiple parties he believes could have done things differently in the situation, possibly even preventing the situation from escalating.
“Our intent is to put (these organizations) on notice that we’re pursuing claims against them for their negligence and other causes of action,” Fortenberry said.
In the release sent out by Fortenberry’s office late last week, American Airlines Center, the Dallas Mavericks, the Dallas Police Department and the Oklahoma City hotel where the teen was found were all listed as parties that could have prevented the situation.
Fortenberry said the teen’s father notified police at the game when he realized she was missing. But, according to Fortenberry, the father was told to report it to North Richland Hills Police, since that’s where he lives.
The father said he was then told to go home.
He said he called North Richland Hills Police that night. Fortenberry said NRH police weren’t able to help because, they said, the incident happened in Dallas.
“The family was frustrated,” Fortenberry said. “After days of not getting any information from the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Police not taking any action, the family sought out the help of this agency in Houston.”
Fortenberry said the Houston-based human trafficking agency Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative was able to use their face-recognition technology to help break open the case.
“That agency was able to help them locate the photograph of their daughter online within the same day,” Fortenberry said.
That agency then contacted Oklahoma City Police, which is the agency that found the missing teen and arrested eight people in connection to the case.
“The Dallas Police Department never asked for a photo of the daughter,” Fortenberry said.
In response to a request from WFAA, Dallas Police confirmed that an off-duty officer who was working the game on April 8 was notified that the teen was missing.
The department said the arena was searched, and shared this about protocol for these situations: “Texas Family Code(51.03 b. 3) dictates that missing juveniles are investigated as runaways unless there are circumstances which appear as involuntary such as a kidnapping or abduction. Those cases per code are to be filed where the juvenile resides.”
North Richland Hills Police confirmed to WFAA that they received the report about the missing teen at 1:27 a.m., about six hours after the game started. The department said the teen was entered in the national missing person database by 3:24 a.m. on April 9.
Dallas Police said they helped North Richland Hills PD and created a bulletin for the missing teen that went out to the department on April 11.
Fortenberry said those efforts weren’t enough.
“This girl was being sexually assaulted in a hotel room multiple nights,” Fortenberry said. “Any time she could have been rescued from that sooner would have been better.”
Fortenberry is also targeting the hotel where the teen was found because, he said, there are multiple signs staff should have picked up on that indicated she was in danger.
“When a 40-something year old man walks in with a 15-year-old girl and rents multiple hotel rooms and then there is traffic coming in and out of those rooms, those are red flags,” Fortenberry said.
Additionally, the letter was sent to the AAC and the Dallas Mavericks — because, according to Fortenberry, the man the teen left with got into the game with a fake ticket that was sold to him by someone known by both organizations for selling fake tickets.
The Mavericks organization has not responded to a request for comment from WFAA.
But, on April 20, after the girl was found, the team released the following statement in conjunction with their arena: “The American Airlines Center (and the Dallas Mavericks) are grateful that the teenager has been found. Both entities will continue to cooperate with local and regional law enforcement on this case.”
Fortenberry said he has not yet received a response from any of the parties to whom he sent the letter. But he said he hopes to hear back within the next month, so the situation can be settled without a lawsuit.