Despite a language barrier and with little information to go on, a teenager allegedly smuggled into Haralson County was reunited with his mother early Monday.
Five people, including a pregnant woman, were taken into custody later that morning by Alabama law enforcement in connection with the alleged kidnapping and human trafficking case, according to Haralson County Sheriff Stacy Williams.
Williams said that his office was notified about a possible kidnapping at about 1 a.m. at the Georgia Welcome Center on Interstate 20 in Haralson County. A Gwinnett County woman, whom Williams declined to identify because the investigation has become a federal matter, had allegedly hired a “coyote,” a person or group of people who illegally smuggle immigrants into the country.
The coyote, Williams said, was to bring her son from an unspecified Central American county 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 agreement, Williams said.
“She was short of that amount and they said, “oh, no, no, no, no,” Williams said. “They threw him back in the vehicle and they left.”
She was able to tell law enforcement 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 vehicle. Williams said Bowman located the vehicle at the Alabama Welcome Center in Cleburne County.
“Not knowing [where the car was], 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 those with the boy, stalling them until the deputies arrived.
“If they’d have drove off, he’d have followed them,” Williams said. “It was just a great piece of investigation work.”
The teen was brought back to Haralson County and reunited with his mother. But the family reunion may be short-lived. 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 borders, and includes human smuggling, for which the county doesn’t have charges 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 type of 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.”