San Diego

‘Saved in America' Works To Find Missing Children

The group made up of former military and law enforcement members, are all licensed private investigators working to prevent missing children from being lost to the streets.

UPDATE (10/17/17): NBC 7 Investigates has learned, with help from the group Saved in America, the teenager is now back home with her family. She was found at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica October 12.

The Department of Justice estimates at any given time there are 2,500 children missing from San Diego and within 48 hours of going missing, they will be approached by a sex trafficker.

Meet "Saved in America," a group of 18 special warfare operators, using their particular set of skills to bring back children lost to the streets, many sold into sex slavery. NBC 7 Investigates followed the team in their search for a 15-year-old Escondido girl, Seraphine, who ran away in July.

Through the Oregon Department of Corrections, Lane County Court records and a former employer, NBC 7 Investigates verified Seraphine is traveling with a sex offender by the name of Tyler Le-Vesque. He calls himself Tyler Rose and has a large rose tattoo on the left side of his neck. Court records show he has been convicted of the rape and molestation of underage victims.

"We don’t know if she has been trafficked," Saved in America Co-founder Joseph Travers said. "We know there have been ads for her."

In their search for Seraphine, three teams from Saved in America drive north to Santa Monica to search the Third Street Promenade, a GoodWill store in the area and Venice Beach. A thinner, darker haired Seraphine was recorded on security cameras at all three places, since her disappearance.

Travers said his team members, called operators are former Navy Seals, British Special Air Service, and American law enforcement members. All are now licensed, private investigators. The group is funded by the Lynch Foundation for Children and other donors, while the operators donate their skills and time.

The team has drawn some critics. While serving as Department of Justice Human Trafficking Task Force Commander, Danny Santiago, said he had concerns about Saved in America tactics.

"We were afraid that since these were special operators, and me myself being a former member of the military, we were afraid they were doing snatch and grabs," he said.

Travers said, "out of 43 recoveries we’ve never had to touch a child or one of the bad guys. Only one of those operations did anyone even know we were there."

Dave and Maureen Toal's 16-year-old daughter was one of those recovered. She disappeared from their Newport home in January 2016.

Toal said her daughter met up with her friend, who had run away from home a month earlier; the two got in a car with a man who drove them to Los Angeles. After three weeks working with law enforcement but no closer to bringing her home, she said she turned to Saved in America.

"The police are just too overwhelmed," Toal said.

Saved in America launched a website and offered a reward to help find the teen. Within a week the team received a tip, leading them to Toal’s daughter. Toal said she was found in Compton with suspected gang members.

"To look a mother in the eyes like Maureen and to see just heart when she knows 'I have my child back,' that’s our reward," Travers said.

After spending a year in therapy out of state Toal’s daughter recently returned to her family. She turned 18 years old last week and Toal said her daughter disappeared the next day. There was a note indicating she wanted to start her life over. Toal said she fears she will end up right back from where she was rescued.

Saved in America's search for Seraphine continues. A search of the Promenade did not lead to Seraphine but Travers said searchers did develop a new internet lead and intelligence on the man with whom she is traveling.

According to advocates for missing children, getting them back may be only half the battle. Many trafficked children become drug addicted, they said, some even brainwashed by their handlers and even with treatment they sometimes return to the streets.

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