'It just didn’t feel right,' Denice Miracle who worked the ticket counter at Sacramento International Airport said.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 20, 2021. It has since been updated.
Gut instinct should never be underestimated. It can potentially save lives and one quick-thinking American Airlines agent in California managed to save two girls from becoming victims of human trafficking because her gut told her something was wrong.
When two young girls approached Denice Miracle at the ticket counter at Sacramento International Airport from Roseville, California, she was immediately suspicious. She noted that there was no parent with them, they had no identification, and each had a one-way first-class ticket. “It just didn’t feel right,” she told TODAY. “They were young and by themselves. It’s unusual to get teens traveling that far by themselves … One of the girls was texting someone on the phone to get answers. They had small bags, and I initially thought they were running away from home.”
Miracle had been working as a customer service agent for 28 years. "The way they kept looking back-and-forth at each other like they weren’t really sure, and they were texting someone on the phone, and that person was giving them answers," she told CBS Sacramento. Her concerns were further confirmed when the girls’ tickets were flagged for potential credit card fraud. She informed the girls, who were aged 15 and 17, that there was something wrong with their tickets and would let them know when it was checked out. In the meantime, she contacted the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Airport Bureau.
Todd Sanderson, the sheriff’s deputy approached the girls. He soon learned that the girls were given the plane tickets by a man they met on Instagram. This man named "Drey" had told the girls he would pay them $2,000 for a modeling gig and by performing in music videos. Sanderson immediately knew this was a red flag. He even let the girls know that Drey had booked only a one-way ticket. The girls were unaware of this and were shocked. Initially, they were hesitant to believe that was the case and insisted they wouldn’t become victims. "That's typically the ruse that's being used to get minors and others involved to do that," he told KTVU. Sanderson got in touch with Drey but shortly after, he deleted all of his social media profiles.
But investigators said that if the girls had taken the flight, it would have altered their lives forever. They were traveling to the airport without their parent's knowledge. “I’m proud of Denice and how she put her training into action to save these children,” American Airlines general manager Aleka Turner said in a statement. “She is a testament to the critical role our frontline team members play each and every day in the operation and the lives of each person they come in contact with.” The girls were safely reunited with their family and returned home.
“That was my 15-year-old daughter,” the mom of one of the girls wrote to Miracle. “There are no words to express our gratitude to you. Thank you. Because of you, my daughter is home safe with her family where she is loved and belongs.” Miracle was touched and said, “It’s just heartwarming. It makes me feel really good, and I’m glad they’re safe.” Sanderson also expressed his gratitude to Miracle and said, “I’m very, very thankful Ms. Miracle with American Airlines was able to use her intuition and concern and actually say something.”
According to Polaris Project, online recruitment in all types of sex and labor trafficking on social media platforms including, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp, and dating sites/apps as well. "Traffickers may build an intimate relationship with a victim through social media or advertise fake or deceptive job opportunities," the website stated.