On a Friday in late March 2012, an exasperated mother drove her teenage daughter to the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter in Tavernier, a residential program with room for up to 18 kids on the island of Key Largo. By all accounts, it was a difficult ride. Twice, the girl tried to jump out of the car. In the parking lot, she threatened to kill herself if her mother admitted her to the facility.
The girl, a chronic runaway who had just turned 17 three weeks earlier, had a history of mental health issues, drug use, and sexual abuse. Earlier that day, before arriving at the shelter, she had been ordered into state custody — things were so bad at home that the teen's mother said she simply couldn’t care for her anymore.
But things were about to get worse. Over a period of two months, the girl ran away from the shelter an astonishing eight times, only to be sent right back to the facility each time she was recovered.
On June 1, 2012, when she returned to the shelter after her eighth escape, a staffer offered to help her run away once more. Instead — the girl and her family now say — that employee sold the teen into a sex-trafficking ring, where she was forced into prostitution for 41 days, held against her will by captors who threatened to kill her, and eventually contracted a sexually transmitted disease.