VANCOUVER, Wash. – A family searching for their missing teenager fears she may be targeted by a sex-trafficking ring.
Vancouver police are investigating the disappearance of 16-year-old Isabella Castillo, and her family is asking for the public's help to find her.
Her family saw Isabella two days ago and thinks she’s caught up in sex trafficking because one of her friends told them they'd seen her around with another girl who is known in the local sex-trafficking world. That girl is used by sex traffickers to recruit other girls by befriending them. She then lures them in, grooms them and gets them to run away. The girls are never heard from again.
"There's that horrible part – you know, you wonder, is somebody hurting her and there's nothing that we can do," said Cymany O'Brien, Isabella's aunt.
The last O'Brien heard from her niece was a text message Monday night:
"This is Isabella. I just want you to know I'm safe. I love you. Thank you for everything you've done for me. And if you try to text me back, I won't get the message," the text said.
Then nothing. No texts. No phone calls, and no Isabella – just a tip from a friend on Tuesday.
O'Brien found out Isabella had been getting texts and was seen hanging out with a girl she'd seen before – the same girl who encouraged Isabella to run away for a few days just a few months earlier.
O'Brien found out that same girl had a reputation.
"We had an encounter with this girl back about 10 months ago and became aware of some information about her and about her involvement in sex trafficking," O'Brien said.
"At some point they're either drugged or they're gang-raped – they're traumatized," said Steve Trujillo, who runs the nonprofit Tomorrow's Hope, a sex-trafficking intervention ministry.
The organization has launched an online campaign to find Isabella, just like hundreds of other girls who've been caught up in sex trafficking.
So far there've been about 50,000 hits on its Facebook post about Isabella's disappearance.
O'Brien has hope but can't help but fear the worst.
"That we'll never see her again. That's she's completely gone," she said. "We just want her to come home. No questions asked. Just come back. She's just this teeny tiny thing. I just want her to come home."
Vancouver police are still investigating and it is unknown for sure what happened to Isabella. But some people, including volunteers at Tomorrow Hope, believe that if this is what's happened to Isabella, the only chance they have at finding her is now.
Police officers searched a house early Thursday morning after someone reported possibly seeing Isabella, but she was not there.
Anyone who knows anything about Isabella's disappearance or has seen her is urged to call Vancouver police.