(NewsNation) — One family is turning Los Angeles County upside down in an effort to find their missing teenage daughter, who they suspect may be a victim of human trafficking.
Three disturbing calls home are all a missing teenager’s family has to hold on to as they search desperately for their daughter.
Alinka Castaneda, just 16 years old, walked away from her family’s California home on New Year’s Day. While her brother thought perhaps this was her first-ever, short-lived attempt to run away, time and spine-chilling calls of distress are signs of how much danger this young girl may be in.
Videos show a grateful teenager, slightly rolling her eyes at her mother’s emotions. It’s a scene that cuts her older brother to the bone.
Alan Toruno fears it will be the last video his sister secretly records on his phone.
”One of the hardest things to do is like watch someone that you love and you are so desperate to find and find this video of them,” Toruno said.
Castaneda left her family’s home in Carson, California, at sunrise on the very first dawn of the new year. She was caught leaving on a neighbor’s camera, and her family hasn’t scene her since.
Private investigator Moses Castillo has donated his time to help find Castaneda.
”I’m fearing the worst but I’m praying for the best,” Castillo told NewsNation.
Castillo has worked with Castaneda’s mother, knocking on doors and passing out flyers. A retired sex crimes detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, Castillo organized an emotional press conference, using his connections to get the word out.
”Talking to individuals that people were pointing towards, or even a residence, we door knocked it. And all those clues did not pan out,” Castillo said.
So far, the case’s best clue yet has come directly from the missing teen.
”When the initial call I think that’s, that was like the turning point of this case,” Turono said.
Castaneda called her younger sister, America. Her words were brief and chilling.
“She sounded panicked. She sounded scared. And in her words, she said that she was unable to leave her location, that they weren’t allowing her to leave pretty much,” Turono said.
Castaneda and her sister are close, sharing a tidy bedroom full of the hallmarks of adolescence, like makeup brushes and clothes. It may also hold clues to Castaneda’s disappearance.
Castaneda took no clothes with her and left her phone behind, leading her family to believe she thought she’d be returning home quickly.
”It seems to me like it’s someone that she might have known through internet or I don’t know. We don’t know. We were scared,” said family friend Rocio Pineda.
Sheriff’s deputies traced her phone call. It pinged just 20 miles north of Carson, in Venice, California. When the family descended on the area to search, another call came in.
”She wanted to come home, and that she was going to come home that night. And she never came home,” Turono said.
Weeks later, a third call left her distraught mother waiting eight hours at a bus stop, waiting in vain for her child.
“Who’s holding her hostage? Who’s preventing her from coming home? Who’s preventing her from making calls? Who’s watching her that she so quickly only had a few seconds to speak?” Turono asked
The possibilities are frightening.
”We are concerned that she may be trafficked and therefore held by a local gang,” Castillo said.
It’s a scenario that pains her family.
“You know human trafficking is a very real and very scary thing, as days go by, and it’s been months, one can only assume this is the reality my sister is stuck in,” Turono said.
Turono and his mother appeared before their local city council to publicize Castaneda’s story.
”And I pray for the family, I have not walked in your shoes but to have a child missing, is just heart-breaking,” Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes said.
The appearance included a rare briefing from the sheriff’s department.
”Detectives have gone out and talked to some friends, talked to some school officials,” Capt. Damon Jones told the council.
At home, Castaneda’s space in her room sits untouched, filled with her mother’s love.
”Tu quarto mi reina,” Maricela Avila Rosas said of her daughter. Your room, my queen.
Love, her brother says, and not judgment is what she’ll return to if she can get away.
”No matter what type of situation she may come back with, we will love and support her and help her through all of this,” Turono said.
Until then, he has the last video she recorded on his phone. One he can’t bring himself to finish watching.
”It’s hard. I miss her and just seeing that kind of like, validates, like, everything that I’m doing and they really like is pushing me to just find her and hoping for the best and hoping that she’s gonna be OK,” Turono said.
After a vote, the city council confirmed a $100,000 reward for information leading to Castaneda’s return.
Alinka Castaneda is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 150 pounds, and recently had short brown hair and brown eyes. Her ears and nose are pierced.
Anyone with information about Castaneda should call the Sheriff’s Department at 310-847-8362.