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'I Had No Clue,' Says Mom Whose Teen Vanished After Leading A Double Life
Eleven years ago, 17-year-old Danica Childs vanished — leaving behind her purse, coat, and cell phone, but few clues to her whereabouts.
It's been more than 11 years since Dianne Zoro has seen her smart, outgoing daughter, a poet and talented dancer who vanished one December afternoon after failing to show up for a Christmas shopping trip with her sisters and friends.
Every year, as winter approaches, Zoro is once again reminded of the last conversation she had with her daughter and the discovery she made in the days after Christmas that revealed her 17-year-old daughter Danica Child's secret double life and galvanized her own fight against human trafficking.
Childs disappeared December 21, 2007 from Federal Way, Washington, after failing to show up for a planned shopping trip.
Zoro had talked to her daughter on the phone earlier that day.
"It was just a normal conversation and she said that she was going to come to our house a little bit later because she had plans to go Christmas shopping with her sisters and her friends," Zoro told Oxygen.com
After the two hung up, Zoro remembered something else she wanted to tell her daughter and immediately called back, but it went straight to voicemail.
"Every time I called, that's what would happen," she said.
Childs had told her mother her phone was dying, so initially Zoro wasn't overly concerned. But after she missed the shopping trip and still hadn't been seen by friends the next day, Zoro contacted police.
In the days that followed, disturbing details would begin to emerge that revealed that Childs, once a happy and energetic child, had been sexually exploited in the months before she disappeared.
Zoro would first learn that her daughter, who had been staying at a friend's house, had spent the night before her disappearance at a local motel that was known for drugs and prostitution. Her mother thought the discovery was a "red flag," but she also knew teens that age would often rent out hotel rooms to have a place to party.
Even more troubling was the discovery of Child's coat, purse, and cell phone, all left behind at the motel without any trace of Childs herself.
Then, just a few days after Christmas, Zoro was able to figure out the voicemail password to her daughter's phone. She listened to a series of "really, really heartbreaking messages" on her daughter's phone that made it clear that she was being exploited.
"That was a big shock. I had no clue," Zoro said. "I knew it was around, I knew it was around our area, but I didn't realize that it was affecting these young girls."
The messages, which hadn't been listened to, started from the time Zoro had first tried to call her daughter back, suggesting that Childs may have vanished shortly after the phone call between the mother and daugther.
"It seems that she did not use the phone at all from that point on," she said.
So, what led to Childs being sexually exploited?
As a kid, Childs, one of four sisters in the family, had lots of energy, did well in school, and was well-liked by her peers.
"She always loved to dance, so in like elementary school when they had talent shows she would get her friends together and she'd kind of choreograph routines," Zoro said, adding that even after she got to middle school some of the students asked for help choreographing dances.
She was also a great writer and wrote her own poetry.
"I have a whole box full of poetry and things that she wrote," her mom said. "I really can't bear to go through and read them all anymore, but I think her idea was someday maybe they could be song lyrics."
By the time she reached high school, Childs was exceeding in school, and her counselors and teachers recommended she be part of a high school program that allows students to work toward their high school diploma and associate's degree at the same time by allowing the students to take classes at the community college.
"Everybody thought she would do great," Zoro said.
However, Childs struggled in the program.
On the bus rides to college, Childs also began to connect with another student, who would later turn out to be a pimp, according to Zoro.
She decided to change her course academically and enrolled in the district's alternative school, which gave her the opportunity to go to school several days a week and work at a job.
Childs had dropped out of that program briefly as she considering pursuing her GED, but had re-enrolled and was scheduled to graduate on time when she disappeared.
"Things were just starting to turn around and look better," Zoro said.
But Childs was also still dating the boy she had met on the bus. It's a connection Zoro believes led to her daughter's exploitation.
There have been few clues into what may have happened to the teen since she vanished more than a decade ago, but her family still holds onto hope that she may be alive. As PEOPLE noted, authorities, at least initially, believed she was most likely a runaway, not a kidnapping victim — although Zoro believes that Childs turning her life around in the weeks prior to her disappeance combined with the evidence that she was being sexually exploited means she hadn't simply run away.
"It was frustrating back then because I think a lot more could have been done on the police end of things, but it's like she's a runaway and I had to twist arms and do a lot of my own research and talk to the Seattle Police Department to even get it identified and classified as a human trafficking case," Zoro said.
Oxyen.com reached out to the Federal Way Police Department, but they declined to comment.
Through her own research, Zoro learned how prevalent human trafficking is in the Washington area.
According to a report from the Washington's Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons, the state is a "hotbed" for human trafficking because of its international border with Canada, multiple ports, and vast rural areas.
Zoro became an advocate against trafficking and joined a Federal Way community action team dedicated to stopping human trafficking in the area. She spoke out about her daughter's case, worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create a video for her daughter, and tried to increase awareness for other parents.
A possible lead came in 2015 when a friend found a picture on Instagram of a girl in Las Vegas who bore a striking resemblance to Childs. One of Child's sisters posted the photo on her Facebook wall before taking the image down a short time later.
Not long after, Child's sister received a message through Facebook from someone claiming to be Childs. The person even used nicknames the sisters had for one another and claimed to be in "hiding." Child's sister responded back to the message, but the Facebook account it had been sent from was quickly taken down.
Zoro isn't sure whether the message had been from her missing daughter or not, but she's still hopeful that her daughter is alive.
And she hopes that even after all these years, some day she'll find her way home.
"No matter circumstances or what happened, I, we, the whole family, we love her, we miss her," she said. "I want to know she's OK. I want to see her beautiful face," Zoro continued. "That's my baby.
"[Photos: Courtesy of the family]