Dedicated to finding each ONE Missing. Exploited. Trafficked
By Sonia Duggan
Every minute counts when you’re trying to find a missing teen.
For the last six years, a DFW private investigator and his team have been on mission to help families and law enforcement officials locate and recover these youth from the hands of human traffickers.
Having handled over 219 cases, it certainly has not been an easy job, but it’s a job Dennis Ozment feels called to do. As a private investigator, Ozment first utilized his skills by volunteering in 2014 with other nonprofits dedicated to rescuing victims of human trafficking. In 2015 he founded 4theONE, a nonprofit “dedicated to finding and recovering each missing, each exploited, each trafficked teen…each one,” states the website.
In five years, Ozment and his 4theONE team helped recover 214 minors, of which almost 50 percent were victims of trafficking and exploitation.
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It is the second largest criminal industry in the world and most trafficking is done solely for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
4theONE is on its 73rd case this year, says the founder, who has seen continued growth over the years; 25 cases for the first few years jumped to 41 cases in 2019, then almost doubled in 2020.
“We’ve been incrementally increasing,” he said. “There’s hundreds more that we could be working if we had time and resources to do it.”
According to Ozment, there are multiple reasons why cases are going up.
“Trafficking is constantly increasing because of all the online use,” he said. “Also, we get more cases because we are more known and part of it is the (case) referrals.”
There are hundreds of missing kids out there at any given time in North Texas, he said. He spoke of a conversation he had with a former detective in 2017 with the Crimes Against Children task force who told him they had 6,000 open missing children cases in the city of Dallas. Some are cold cases, like that of Maria Elizalde of Dallas, where five years of searching have failed to bring her home.
“As kids are found, more go missing.” he added. “There’s no shortage of kids that need to be found. It’s just the shortage of resources to be able to man that side. And that’s just one city.”
Finding a mission and a process
Ozment said that he’s always had that heart for helping, and for him, “if a job or career doesn’t have a greater purpose, it gets old quick.”
After moving to the DFW area from McAllen where he and his wife had both been in ministry, Ozment got his license to work as a private investigator in 2013.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I had this license, I have these skills, what can I do with it?”
While he’s unsure exactly how he discovered a place to volunteer, he believes it was a poster of missing children that spurred his interest and led him to contact Traffick911, a nonprofit dedicated to free youth from sex trafficking.
Ozment moved on after realizing that one nonprofit he was involved with didn’t align with his ideals, and Traffick911 decided to focus more on direct services rather than doing outreach and looking for kids.
“The people I met in the process from both groups, we continued to work together to find kids through 2015, then I decided to form 4theONE,” he said.
As founder and Executive Director of 4theONE, Ozment says he devotes about 95% of his time to the nonprofit but jokingly claims he still tries to get enough clients at Allegiant, his private investigation company, to keep the lights on. “But it’s definitely not my focus at this point,” he said.
The process of finding out about teens who are reported missing and then finding them, isn’t easy, especially in light of the fact that many runaway/missing kids are not reported to law enforcement.
Early on, Ozment and his team would see a post from a family member on Facebook and would reach out to them and offer their services, but today, he says referrals come almost exclusively from law enforcement or nonprofits that provide advocacy to survivors.
“In this area, it’s Traffick911 or Unbound in Ft. Worth or local law enforcement agencies,” he said. “We get more cases from Ft. Worth PD than anywhere else.”
Once 4theONE takes a case they have to get parent or guardian permission to distribute posters using the teen’s name and photo. But, if for some reason they can’t get a parent’s permission, Ozment says they’ll share posters from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
“Each child is in their system,” he said. “We’ll share that post because it is public.”
Ozment says they get quite a few tips off of the posters and sometimes people will call 911.
He told the story of a boy, 14, who had been communicating with a woman in her mid-30s via online gaming for one year. He said the woman – who lived out of state – had built a relationship with the teen and visited him in Texas a couple of times. Eventually, the woman returned to Texas and took the teen back with her. After he went missing, and 4theONE was contacted, Ozment said they had posters everywhere and on social media as well.
Luckily, the woman and teen ended up flying back to Dallas via Love Field and were recognized by another teen who was with her family at the airport. “This teen recognized this missing boy from our posters that she saw on Facebook,” he said. “The parents quickly grabbed a police officer at the airport. She’s now serving double time.”
Lost, then found
Once 4theONE gets a missing teen referral, Ozment says time is short so they have to move fast, first by doing a lot of online research; searching adult ad sites, dating sites and combing through social media.
“Anywhere you can possibly search online we are looking for any little piece of evidence,” he said.
After extensive online investigation, 4theONE investigators then go out and ask questions to try and narrow down who the teen might be with or the location that they’re in, says Ozment.
Once they get a suspected location, the investigator assigned to the case sets up surveillance hoping to catch a glimpse of a missing teen in order to confirm that “yes, they are truly at this location,” he said.
After a sighting, the 4theONE investigator calls law enforcement to come rescue the teen. This is important, he said, because it’s not unusual for whoever answers the door to say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Nobody’s here.”
The investigator acts as a witness, having seen a child go in the house and not come out, Ozment said, and “gives law enforcement the ability to search the house otherwise they can’t go in and search the house.”
Once a child is rescued, their job is complete unless information they have is needed for a court testimony.
“If we do everything correctly, then nobody ever knows that we’re involved,” he said. “We never meet the child or have direct contact with them.”
Depending on how and where a teen is found; at a hotel or “absolutely 100 percent through trafficking,” Ozment says nonprofits Unbound Ft. Worth and Traffick911 are designated advocates, so when victims are brought to the police station, law enforcement reaches out to one of those organizations depending on what county they are in.
The advocate shows up at the police station in 90 minutes or less. From that point on, the advocate works with that young person to make sure they get all the services they need and builds a relationship with them in order to stay with them for years to come, says Ozment.
“That program has been, I think, the biggest game changer over the years for helping the survivors and lowering/preventing how often they run again,” he said. “There’s so much going on inside of them that emotionally it’s overwhelming, and with all the things that have gone on, a lot of the times they will run again.”
Healthy relationships, says Ozment, help reduce the number of times kids run again.
“Many of the kids being trafficked are being trafficked by someone they met online who they believe in their heart is their boyfriend or girlfriend,” he said. “Law enforcement just took that relationship away from them so they now have an emotional void and so you need to replace the bad relationship with a good relationship.”
Chosen to serve
Right now, 4theONE has 35 volunteers, 18 of whom are private investigators. While Ozment says he has the ability to do basic cyber investigation, he has more technical investigators who do cyber forensics for the complicated cases, “so it’s done correctly – forensically correctly – so that we would not taint any evidence that’s on a device so if the device needs to be used in court, it holds up.”
Besides investigators, there are other types of volunteers needed.
Sara Clodfelder, director of community engagement for 4theONE, said if a potential volunteer wants to be involved but is limited due to different seasons of life, there are other ways to help.
“We have an intercession prayer team, social media team, software engineering team, Cloud systems and security team, college internships as well as other ways to be connected and engaged,” she said.
A person’s gifts and talents can be used to find kids, she added, just like the analysts, family liaisons, and private investigators do.
“What our volunteers do is hard, and it’s ugly, but each kid is worthy of a safe place,” she said. “It’s rewarding when we see ‘our’ kids get recovered.”
The nonprofit has designated teams of volunteers around North Texas; Denton, Dallas, Ft. Worth as well as one in Temple.
A long-term goal for the nonprofit, says Ozment, is to have paid staff so they can be more efficient and help find more missing teens. In addition, with extra funding they can purchase more software.
“With every tool that we can add, we find more kids more quickly,” he said. “There are hundreds of kids out there that nobody’s looking for other than a parent. Everything we do will make us more efficient. Unfortunately, law enforcement doesn’t have time to look for every kid with everything else they’ve got to do.”
Clodfelder said Ozment works tirelessly to grow 4theONE in various avenues such as technology, connections, trainings, etc. and stretches leadership staff and volunteers to do the same.
“His leadership has brought us to where we are as an organization and in finding over 200 kids,” she said.
In addition to his role as executive director of 4theONE and manning his own PI firm, Ozment is chairman of the board for C7 Human Trafficking Coalition, originally known as the Denton County Coalition, which started in 2014. The coalition is a non-profit group that, according to their mission statement, “collaborates with organizations and individuals to bring awareness, education, training and victim services to help combat sex trafficking in the North Texas region.”
They cover seven counties in North Texas and there are 45 participating agencies which include: first responders, governmental organizations, churches, and multiple nonprofits that aid, house and rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking.
One agency that 4theONE collaborates with is Rockwall-based Poiema, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and raising awareness to prevent sex abuse, sex trafficking and other methods of exploitation. Executive Director Rebecca Jowers said the reason Poiema is so successful is because of the key partnership with 4theONE. “Neither organization is territorial,” she said. “We share volunteers and resources. We understand this is Kingdom work and God is orchestrating it.”
Community and parental engagement are an important tool against human trafficking.
Coalition members, including Ozment, are often asked to participate in panels or speak individually to educate the community about human trafficking. One topic Ozment speaks to parent groups about is internet safety.
“I kind of scare everybody enough that I don’t often get invited back,” he said. “To me it’s just crazy what people are allowing.”
Software, computer monitoring, router restrictions and such are not foolproof.
“You’ll never be able to lock everything away, it’s impossible,” he said. “There’s always a way around anything you do – that’s why the most important thing is relationship. If your relationship is strong enough, they won’t be as vulnerable to an outside relationship.”
Ozment uses the story of the 14-year-old boy that 4theONE rescued as an example. Because the mom had a lot going on in the family at the time, he said she thought her son was safe while gaming online in his room with his friends.
But, that’s far from the case.
“If you’re gaming online, there are no restrictions,” he said. “There’s no record of it and it’s often done with a headset.”
He advises parents to be aware “that if your kid’s online, your kid’s online with the entire world.” Allowing a child to be online and not knowing for sure who they are communicating with, says Ozment, “is like taking your child to a park in downtown Dallas and just dropping them off.”
Having access to a phone and social media is risky, he adds, and can be damaging for developing kids.
Facebook is particularly dangerous, says Ozment, because there’s numerous groups that are secret and private.
“If your kid has one Facebook account, they have five Facebook accounts,” he said. “And unless a parent logs into their child’s account using their Facebook password, you can’t see everything they’re doing.”
The biggest hinderance to a predator, he added, is reducing vulnerability.
“If things are going bad, last thing you want to do is take their phone, because if they run, if they don’t have a phone, there is absolutely no way to contact them, track them,” he said. “You stripped away a huge tool that will help them come home safe.”
Want to help 4theONE find more missing children?
Tipline – call or text 888-512-1052
To volunteer or donate:
visit 4theone.org or find them on Facebook or Instagram.
4theONE, 1800 S Loop 288, Suite 396-152, Denton TX 76205