Richland deputies located three runaway girls at a motel off Broad River Road on Tuesday night and charged three suspects with human trafficking.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, meanwhile, had a message for men who buy sex from young women held against their will: “Just stop it. We’re going to go after you, too.”
Lott said at a news conference Wednesday that the three victims were runaways aged 15 and 16 from three S.C. counties who were taken in by the men, held captive and offered for sex on backpage.com. Lott said the men used drugs “as one of the means to get control over these girls.”
“Fortunately for us, we had a mother of one of these runaways who was very persistent,” Lott said. “She was going to find her daughter, and she did a lot of things to find her daughter.”
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Deputies found the girls at the Regency Inn at 1335 Garner Lane in St. Andrews late Tuesday night and charged the two men who were holding them there. The mother of one of the victims, a 15-year-old from Richland County, was able to contact her daughter, then contacted law enforcement, Lott said.
Geordi Heyward, 23, was charged with human trafficking, 3rd degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Kristopher Davis, 25, was charged with human trafficking and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A woman, Danielle Burns, 18, also was charged with human trafficking. Human trafficking is a felony carrying a maximum of 15 years in prison.
During a bond hearing Wednesday afternoon, an official with the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said one of the victims named Davis as a leader of a group involved in human trafficking.
The charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor served to keep Davis and Heyward in jail after their arrests Tuesday while investigators continued gathering evidence to file the trafficking charges, Lott said. Burns turned herself in to the sheriff’s department late Wednesday afternoon.
The girl from Richland County was missing since May 31, Lott said. The other victims were from Elgin, in Kershaw County, and Spartanburg County.
“This is modern-day slavery that we’re seeing with these young girls who have been victimized by these older guys,” Lott said.
The 16-year-old from Elgin went missing June 17, Elgin Police Chief Harold Brown said. The 15-year-old from Spartanburg County went missing in Horry County – also on June 17, according to the Horry County Police Department.
One of the girls knew the suspects and introduced them to the others, Lott said.
During a bond hearing Wednesday afternoon, a judge set a $75,000 bond for Heyward and a $30,000 bond for Davis, requiring that they both be monitored by GPS should they make bail.
Both men asked the judge for personal recognizance bonds and were denied. Heyward told the judge he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Davis told the judge that he had been in a situation where he wasn’t aware of all the details.
Because bonds were set for Heyward and Davis before the sheriff’s department charged them with human trafficking, Lott said the bonds were likely to change. As the investigation continues, officials said additional charges and more arrests could be coming.
Speaking Wednesday, the sheriff warned that deputies are on the watch – not just for those who participate in trafficking, but for those who buy sex in such cases.
“These men who prey on these young girls, we’re asking them to stop it,” Lott said. “Just stop it. We’re going to go after you, too. We’re going to lock you up.”