Child trafficking a danger even in Big Sky Country

Callan Garner, Staff wrtiter

Laughing, the group of teenagers sat in the center of the restaurant waiting to place their order. As they began to order their drinks, a man in a long, black coat walked in, appearing to have a gun under his coat. Instantly changing the mood of the group, the man sat down at a booth behind the teenagers, leering as he watched them order. He pulled out a mask instead of a gun, and the group realized this man was not going to allow the night to be a lighthearted gathering of friends.
“He instantly changed the mood of the group. We stopped telling horrible jokes and started wondering what to do,” said junior Tyler Grina, who was part of the seven-person group that night.
After the Thursday night game, Tyler Grina joined with Cameron McCarthy, Hannah Brennan, Marissa and Mallory Bosley, Callan Garner and Chance Buday met in the CMR jock lot to decide what to do until their curfew. Deciding that Denny’s was the only place to meet, they got in their cars at 10:30 p.m. and drove towards the restaurant located next to the Flying J Truck Stop on airport hill.
Once there, the mood was that of normal lightheartedness, but that all changed when the strange man walked in offering to “buy the group” to work a party he was throwing. He showed hundreds of dollars trying to convince the group, and everyone knew something was off.
“As soon as I saw him, my gut was screaming. I knew we should have left that second,” junior Hannah Brennan said after the incident. Not knowing what to do when approached, the group sat and listened to his proposition. After they politely declined his offer, he went back to his booth, continuing to stare, grin, and mumble to himself.
Recent studies by the Montana Department of Justice have recently shown that nearly 300,000 children are trafficked yearly in the United States alone. With this statistic in mind, the group continued cautiously.
As the night drew to a close the man wanted to pay the bill in “good faith,” saying he would follow through with his word. The waitress said he refused to leave unless he paid, and so the group allowed him to pay, just wanting him gone. As the waitress walked him out, he got into a green conversion van, leaving Denny’s and the teenagers to ponder who he really was.
The tension that had built up during the night began to settle back down until the waitress went and talked to the group. She told them that the man was definitely trying to get them to work a sex party, something that could eventually lead to child trafficking. Detective Nick Taylor, CMR’s School Resource Officer, said he has never dealt with anything like this in Great Falls before.
“In the general terms (of child trafficking), dealing with exploitation. Kids who have made videos and sent them out to people that they didn’t know. And those videos ended up getting in the hands of adults who exploited them for money,” Taylor said. Watch the structure of his quote. It doesn’t seem quite done?
“Exploiters recruit through a variety of techniques, like targeting children with low self-esteem, courting them with gifts, exploiting or creating drug habits, fostering dependency through isolation and creating distrust of law enforcement and social services,.” the Billings Gazette reported on May 23, 2017. The man in Denny’s used two of the techniques:; courting with gifts and creating distrust of law enforcement.
As said above, the man offered more than $1,000 to “help him out” at his party. Then as he was refused, he told us that there was no reason to inform the cops.
“He was a real sketchy man. He kept saying how this party wouldn’t be accessible to cops and there would be ‘in house security,’” junior Cameron McCarthy said.
Detective Taylor says to “trust your gut instinct.” If you are in a situation that feels wrong then do something about it.
“No one is alone in this. … There are resources out there for help” said Detective Taylor when asked what to do when presented with this type of situation.
Situations like this happen more often than you think. The Billings Gazette Reported that “A breakdown of who the exploiters or traffickers (are)… show that 36 percent are immediate family members, 27 percent are boyfriend’s, 14 percent are friends or family, 14 percent are employers and 9 percent are strangers.”
Reported to the Great Falls Police Department and the school, the group of seven teenagers did all they could with the information collected.
“I just hope someone doesn’t actually fall for his tricks” said junior Tyler Grina.