Dianne Zoro had seen the girls along Pacific Highway South before.
The mother of four daughters saw girls walking to the bus stop as she drove home from work to her Federal Way apartment near 272nd Street nearly every day since she moved here. She always felt bad for the girls who, for whatever reason, felt they needed to sell their bodies for money. She envisioned the girls as young single mothers with babies they couldn’t afford to feed. But she never paid much attention to them.
Until her 17-year-old daughter went missing.
“I started driving that stretch day and night and all of a sudden it struck me how many girls were out there,” said Zoro, whose daughter Danica Childs disappeared from a Kent motel associated with drugs and prostitution in December of 2007. “Then looking at their faces and realizing that Danica was 17, but I was seeing girls who were much younger.”
Zoro later learned that her daughter’s boyfriend was a pimp and Danica was working as a prostitute.
During an event on Monday morning, Zoro and three of her daughters were at Gordon Trucking in Pacific, Wash., where company officials and members of the Washington State Patrol unveiled a trucking trailer with a large poster of Danica on the side.
Gordon Trucking currently has 100 trailers that feature posters of 21 missing children from Washington and Oregon. The company’s fleet travels across the U.S. and in Canada, along freeways, interstates and highways — like Pacific Highway South.
“It’s weird to see her face right there,” Zoro said when she saw her daughter’s face on the side of the truck.
Gordon Trucking, in partnership with the state patrol and IMagic, highlighted the Homeward Bound program with the addition of Danica’s poster to its fleet on Monday.
Renee Padgett, a trooper who works in state patrol’s Commercial Vehicle division, came up with the idea for the program in 2005.
“She worked as a commercial vehicle enforcement trooper at the time and she thought if we can get these posters out there, people are on the road every day, so what better idea than to put pictures of missing kids on the side of trucks,” said Carri Gordon, a manager in state patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons unit. The unit identifies missing children who will be featured on Gordon Trucking’s trailers.
She said her unit identified Danica for this program after one of the unit’s case workers spoke with Zoro on a regular basis. Gordon said her unit considers several factors when choosing missing children for this program, including parental support and whether family members have quality photos of their loved ones.
“The hope is that this will generate some leads on where Danica is,” Gordon said. “That’s the goal of the program is to get her face out there, so that the public will know that we’re still looking for her, that she has not been forgotten. We want those phone calls to happen.”
Erik Anderson, director of operations for Gordon Trucking, added that the company “hopes that we can bring somebody home.”
Danica’s oldest sister Jasmin Johnson said she felt relieved to see her sister’s poster on the trailer.
“To know that it’s going to go all around the country is a really good feeling,” Johnson said.
She recalled the day her younger sister went missing. She hadn’t heard from Danica, so she called her but didn’t get any response.
“That was unusual because we usually kept in contact every day,” Johnson said. “So when she wasn’t responding immediately my heart sunk because I felt that something was wrong.”
Zoro didn’t see her daughter the day she disappeared, but she had spoken to her on the phone.
“I was on my way home from work and we just had a conversation and she said she was coming home and she was going to go Christmas shopping with all her sisters and her friends but she just didn’t show up.”
Danica’s friends later called Zoro and said they were concerned that they hadn’t heard from her. Danica’s boyfriend, who she met on the bus, also called Zoro and said Danica was with him at the Sunset Motel earlier that day. She left around 3 p.m. and was supposed to come back with a friend who had a car to pick him up.
“But she never came back and she left her coat and her purse,” Zoro said.
She figured out her daughter’s voicemail password and listened to the sexually graphic messages from clients, known as “johns.”
“Listening to them was really hard because it was obvious that prostitution was involved,” Zoro said.
She said she believes her daughter’s boyfriend sold Danica to somebody.
“Her friend eventually told us that Danica had reported to her that she witnessed (her boyfriend) selling another girl,” she said. “I never had any doubt that she left of her own accord. There was just no reason for her to, boom, leave without contacting anybody.”
Zoro said her family’s biggest challenge has been coping with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the depression that comes with losing a loved one.
“We know nothing,” Johnson said. “It’s like an indescribable feeling. If you loose someone and you know what happened, at least you know. But when you have absolutely no idea is she OK, was she murdered, is she in somebody’s basement, did somebody completely brainwash her – the mystery is unreal.”
Zoro has worked with the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking since 2011, raising awareness and educating the community about sex trafficking. Throughout the years, she has learned that trafficking happens to students in Federal Way, including some who attend Todd Beamer, Decatur, Federal Way high schools, and even some middle schools.
“We learned that at Federal Way High School for a while, girls were having roses delivered and then the girls would be gone,” Zoro said. “So the school and police finally figured out it was a signal. If they got a rose delivered, it was like they had a job. That’s why we’re really interested in working in the schools to educate students and teachers.”
She also hopes to raise awareness in the Federal Way community that trafficking is a real issue and kids don’t just run away because they’re bad kids, she added.
“She didn’t leave of her own free will, and if she is able to come home now, she’s being held back by fear, shame, embarrassment, things of that nature. But she wasn’t just being a bad kid.”
Anyone with information about Danica’s disappearance should call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tip line at 1-800-THE-LOST.
Missing children already in the Homeward Bound Program
Agueda Arias, missing since November 2001, 3 years old
Lindsey Baum, missing since June 2009, 9 years old
Kayla Croft-Payne, missing since April 20, 2010, 17years old
Misty Copsey, missing since September 1992, 13 years old
Ronald Frye, missing since September 1993, 15 years old
Sofia Juarez, missing since February 2003, 5 years old
Richard (Cody) Haynes, missing since September 2004, 11 years old
Bryce Herda, missing since April 1995, 6 years old
Kyron Horman, missing since June 2010, 7 years old
Tyler Inman, missing since October 1982, 3 years old
Lenoria Jones, missing since July 1995, 3 years old
Teekah Lewis, missing since January 1999, 2 years old
Katya Lyne, missing since March 1997, 15 years old
Loukthayoth Phiangdae, missing since February 1996, 11 years old
Joseph Pichler, missing since January 2006, 18 years old
Jasmine Sajedi, missing since July 2004, 2 years old
Shelby Wright, missing since July 2004, 14 years old
There are also two posters on Gordon Trucking trailers that are “in memory” of victims Zina Linnik and Adre’anna Jackson.