A 15-year-old Texas girl died by suicide on Saturday, two years after she was rescued from sex trafficking, her family says.
Leticia “Letty” Serrano, a former student at Marshall Middle School in Houston, was kidnapped near her school grounds and sold to human traffickers in 2017 when she was just 13 years old, her godmother, Cynthia Rivera, told KTXH.
Although a community search effort eventually located the girl near Moody Park in Houston soon after she went missing, Rivera said part of her goddaughter never came back home.
“We got her back damaged,” Rivera said.
Letty’s father, Mariano Serrano, also told the station that after his daughter returned, she tried to run away from home multiple times to see the man who had sold her into trafficking.
“She wanted to be with him,” he said. “But she also didn’t want to hurt her family.”
Letty’s family celebrated her quinceanera in May 2019, just five months before her tragic death on Oct. 12. Her father told KTXH his daughter locked herself in a bathroom in their home early that morning, and that by the time he reached her, it was too late.
“She died in my arms,” he said.
Rivera took to Facebook on Wednesday morning to spread awareness about Letty’s story and raise funds to cover the cost of the girl’s funeral.
“Letty was abducted in 2017 through a man who drugged her and trafficked her,” she wrote. “With the help of the community I was able to get her back… the damage was already done and the road to recovery is one of the hardest things for any child to overcome without the right help.”
Rivera also claimed that the man responsible was arrested in wake of the kidnapping and that he only spent three days in jail before his release. She added that the man was allegedly seen with another 13-year-old child just days after the incident.
Houston Police Department Vice Division commander Jim Dale told KTXH he requested that Letty’s case be reopened in wake of her death.
“She was a victim and somehow her cries fell through the cracks,” he said, adding he hoped to get more schools involved in the mass effort to stop the state’s child sex trafficking epidemic.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 10,949 reports of suspected human trafficking in 2018 alone. Among U.S. states, most were from California, with 1,656 reported cases, followed by Texas, with 1,000. Florida and New York had 767 and 492 reported cases, respectively.
Sex trafficking was the No. 1 reported type of human trafficking, with 7,859 alleged cases. Labor trafficking, the second most reported, trailed behind at 1,249 reported cases. Women were by far the most impacted, with 7,126 female victims compared to 1,137 male victims reported.
Still, many cases of human trafficking go unreported. The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States, a prevalence of 1.3 victims of modern slavery for every thousand in the country.