News

Sex trafficking allegations

A woman contacted the Siloam Springs Police Department following an Aug. 5 incident with alleged sex traffickers at the Bob Henry Park in Siloam Springs.

According to an article release by 5 News, the Siloam Springs Police Department requested the woman contact a detective in the criminal investigation division to further examine the issue.

Lt. Derek Spicer of the Siloam Springs Police Department said the department couldn’t comment on the cases until further notice, as the case is still under investigation.

The woman, a non-resident of Siloam Springs who will be called Kathy, reported that the alleged sex traffickers spoke with her, filmed her with a phone, followed her about the park, and surrounded her car when she attempted to leave with her children.

The evening of Aug. 6, Kathy wrote a detailed post on Facebook about her experience which she described as “horrible and traumatic”.

According to Kathy’s Facebook post, she visited the park with her three sons around 5:30 p.m. Other families were seen milling about with their children.

Kathy was sitting on a bench, holding her dog and watching her children play, when a man and a little girl approached her.

She described the man as tall and Hispanic with dark hair in his early to mid-30s. The girl was around two or three years old.

“I figured she was wanting to see the puppy, so I wasn’t thinking much of it,” Kathy wrote. “But they just kept standing there staring at me.”

After exchanging a few words in Spanish, the man and the young girl moved to the swings, staring at Kathy all the while.

Feeling uneasy, she attended to her dog, preparing to give it a drink from her son’s water bottle, but was startled when the man appeared from behind, took her dog, poured water in his hand and allowed it to drink from it. 

“I was already feeling like something was off, and this made me feel worse,” Kathy said.

She said he continued to stare at her, so she took back her dog, moved away from the man, and sat on the steps of the jungle gym to be closer to her children.

At this point Kathy reported that the suspect and the little girl moved to a new swing set which was facing her directly. The man placed a baby doll in the swing next to the little girl and proceeded to film it and the girl with his phone. 

“I looked up and noticed that instead of him standing in front of the girl and doll to record them that he was actually standing between the two swings and was recording me,” Kathy said. “He noticed me looking and backed up to record the girl and the doll and was moving the phone from side to side.”

Kathy said she discreetly watched him for a while.

“I started pretending to play and kiss on the puppy and lose interest in him but was actually looking up through my eyelashes at him. Once he thought I wasn’t paying attention anymore he walked back between the swings and started recording me again and tapping his phone like he was also taking pictures while videoing,” Kathy said.

Perturbed, Kathy and her sons moved toward the smaller playground. On the way, Kathy confided in her eldest son that the suspect’s behavior frightened her, and he admitted he noticed the man filming his mother.

At the smaller playground, Kathy noticed that she and her sons were the only people in the park beside the man and the girl. The man was still watching her.

“Every nerve in my body and alarm and bells in my head were going off,” Kathy said. “We needed to leave and NOW!”

Kathy and her sons crossed back through the park toward the parking lot, while the man stood and watched them.

By this time, a red Chevy truck in prime condition had parked beside the woman’s car. Three Hispanic men stepped out and sat on the top of a picnic table near their vehicle. The men appeared to be in their early to mid-20s, with dark brown skin and dark hair.

Kathy said she heard internal alarm bells all the while.

“They tried talking to us about our dog. We ignored them and I yelled at the boys to get in. We got in fast and I immediately locked the doors. I reversed. As soon as I started backing out, they walked around my car and behind it, trying to stop me. I didn’t stop,” Kathy said. “I clipped one of them and kept going.”

Kathy called her husband, and then, at 6:03 p.m., the police.

There were several witnesses at the Bob Henry Park on Aug. 5 who confirmed Kathy’s story in part.

A woman commented on Kathy’s post, saying she saw Kathy at the park and noted that something didn’t seem quite right.

She wrote, “I was there that day. I saw you and the puppy. When you talked away with your kids to the little play area, I wondered if something was wrong. I wish I would have just asked you because I was with my five kids and that man approached me while my husband was out of the way. I knew something seemed weird but my husband walked up to me and the man walked away. We left shortly after that.”

Other people commented on Kathy’s post and encouraged her to talk to the police.

Another woman, a Siloam Springs resident who will be called Olivia, saw the suspect giving water to Kathy’s dog. Because of the way the man interacted with Kathy, Olivia said she thought they were in a relationship. Olivia said she wasn’t acquainted with Kathy.

“I remember thinking that since they so close, and he was all up in her space, that he was with her. He was laughing, smiling, and talking,” Olivia said.

Olivia mentioned that she noticed Kathy moving frequently about the park.

“I do remember that she kept moving around, while we were sitting there. I would see her on the benches and then she would walk over, closer to the swings and then she came back,” Olivia said. “Then, whenever I read the post she put up, I realized what she was doing.”

Other people have reported incidents of possible sex trafficking. Toni Gilleland, a resident of Siloam Springs, is one such person.

According to Gilleland, she, her husband, and her six-year-old daughter were shopping at Wal-Mart when they noticed two black men with Haitian accents staring at their daughter.

“It wasn’t one of those common ‘We’re going to look at [her] then look away.’ It was an intense staring. Well, I figured when we passed by them, they would look up from her to me, cause I was adult passing by them, but they didn’t. They did not break contact with my daughter.”

Gilleland described one of the men as tall and skinny, about 6’1, with short dreadlocks. The other was skinny and shorter, around 5’7, with a buzz cut. Both looked to be mid-20s to early 30s.

Both Gilleland and he husband noticed the men’s behavior and ensured their daughter stayed between them and held their hands.

Gilleland said that later, near the checkout counter, she caught sight of the shorter of the two men standing among racks of clothes with his camera trained on another little girl.

According to Gilleland, the parents of the other girl didn’t seem to notice the man filming their daughter. Disconcerted by his behavior, Gilleland said she watched him carefully until they made eye contact, after which he rushed out of the store.

She and her husband debated about whether to call the police and inform them of the incident. Eventually, they decided to make the call.

“I let them know the exact experience. I didn’t embellish and I posted on Facebook just to get the warning out. Just to say ‘Hey, this was an uncomfortable experience,’” Gilleland said.

The Siloam Springs Police Department encourages everyone to contact them if they’ve shared a similar experience. Call 911 for emergencies or the non-emergency line (479) 524-4118. Reports may also be made anonymously using our tip line at tips@siloamsprings.com.

Zeke Wilcox – Opinion Editor