Richmond, VA—A central Virginia teen who vanished without a trace last week and who authorities feared may have been a victim of human trafficking has been found.
16-year-old Jennifer Romero had been missing since March 2. In the early morning hours of March 12, August County Sheriff's Office investigators located her and returned her to her family's home.
Police say Romero was with 22-year-old Leonel Alvaro Sis-Toj, who is a Guatemalan citizen and resides in Arlington. He has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Romero was at her house in Augusta County on March 2, and at some point she disappeared. Her father had no idea where she was.
"My little girl, she went to her bedroom, to wake her up. She wasn't there," says Ronald Flores.
Authorities said Romero had been talking to a 19-year-old man, Mynor Franko, on Facebook. After her disappearance, her Facebook page was deleted and her cell phone was turned off.
Sara Pomeroy with the Richmond Justice Initiative says social media sites can be risky for teens.
"Sometimes the Facebook, especially for teenagers, that's a really dangerous thing," she says.
Pomeroy has been fighting human trafficking for years, and says predators often find girls online.
"This is very typical of traffickers to target teens on Facebook. They will track their status updates; they are looking for the girl without a dad, they are looking for the girl that doesn't think that she's pretty, they're looking for the girl who just had a fight with her parents."
Using the last known address from her phone's GPS, police tracked down Franko and arrested him in Arlington. He has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Governor Bob McDonnell recently signed a bill which makes it easier for jurisdictions to work together to find potential victims. These types of provisions will make it easier for girls like Romero to be found.
Authorities say that Romero contacted her family during the time she was missing, but the conversations lasted only seconds, and never revealed her location.
Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher believed the girl was trying to stay alive.
"She'll do whatever they tell her to just to survive," he says.
Police say Romero was a willing participant in her disappearance. An investigation revealed that Sis-Toj picked up Romero near her home and transported her to Arlington.
Investigators will be meeting with the Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney and Juvenile Court Service Officers to discuss possible charges for Romero.
Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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