Despite a language barrier and with little information to go on, a teenager was reunited with his mother early on Monday thanks to the determination of local law enforcement, the Haralson County sheriff said.
Haralson County Sheriff Stacy Williams said that the office was notified about a possible kidnapping from the Georgia Welcome Center on Interstate 20 in Haralson County at about 1 a.m. A Gwinnett County woman, who Williams declined to identify because the investigation was no longer a local investigation, allegedly had hired a “coyote,” a person or group of people who smuggles immigrants into the country illegally, to bring her son from Central America to the Welcome Center. She had paid a down payment for the service, but when the child was delivered, she didn’t have enough money to finish the contract, Williams said.
“She was short of that amount and they said, “Oh, no, no, no, no,” Williams said. “They throwed him back in the vehicle and they left.”
She was able to give law enforcement a description of the van and tell them that the vehicle had headed west on the interstate. So, Haralson County Sgt. Bowman started heading west on I-20 to see if he could find the van. He did locate it, at the Alabama Welcome Center in Cleburne County.
“Not knowing, he took the initiative and he just started riding,” Williams said. “I don’t know how far he was going to end up going, but he drove right up on them.”
Bowman didn’t have jurisdiction in Alabama, Williams said. But he alerted Cleburne County law enforcement and then talked to the kidnappers, stalling them until the local deputies arrived.
“If they’d have drove off, he’d have followed them,” Williams said. “It was just a great piece of investigation work.”
Five people including a pregnant woman were taken into custody by Alabama law enforcement in connection with the alleged kidnapping and human trafficking, he said.
The teen was brought back to Haralson County and reunited with his mother. The family reunion may be short-lived, though. Williams said that although the Sheriff’s Office treated the incident as a kidnapping, he expects a federal agency such as Homeland Security or Immigration and Customs Enforcement — or both — to take over the case. The woman may face federal charges for hiring the coyote, he said.
But he added that it makes sense for the federal agencies to take over. The case crosses state and national lines, and includes human smuggling, which the county doesn’t have charges for in its local ordinances, Williams said.
“They have longer reaching tentacles,” he said of the federal agencies.
Williams said the incident is an illustration of the crime that comes through the county by way of the interstate.
“You’ve got every crime in the world taking place on this interstate,” he said. “Atlanta is the southeastern hub for human trafficking. Atlanta is the Southeastern hub for illicit drugs and stuff like that. And all of this affects our area.”