I recently came across this story of a Southern California mama named Diandra Toyos who was shopping with her mom and three littles. She was meandering through seemingly endless jungle that is IKEA and the unthinkable happened.
She and her kids happily tested out couches and Diandra became aware of a man watching them nearby. At first she began to get a “gut feeling” and instinctively she felt something was wrong. Diandra keenly realized she and her children were targets of human trafficking.
This is the photo she shared with her post that day in order to help make others aware.
After reading her gut wrenching story and with a lump in my throat, I reached out to Diandra and asked her permission to share her story. She graciously agreed and I am so grateful.
I know this story will change how I parent in public settings.
I hope it is eye opening for you as well.
Also, this blog is meant to be a safe place and this mom has boldly offered her story to help us. Take from this the experience the wisdom of someone who has gone before you and leave behind any criticism or judgement.
I wanted to share this again publicly in case any of you want to share with your mom friends… I’ve added some details and some things to be aware of that we have thought of since talking about the experience.
I recently read a post written by a mother I didn’t know, that went viral. She described an event that happened to her while she was at target. She and her children were targeted by human traffickers. She talked about how when she reported the incident after the fact, she was told that this was a very common way they worked.
I read things like that, and I always think “wow, that’s so scary… I need to be careful”. But I also always think “that could never happen to me.”
But you guys, it did.
A few days ago, my mom and I took the kids (I have 3 kids. A daughter who is 4, and two sons, 1.5 years and 7 weeks) to IKEA. We enjoy going and it’s always nice to get the kids out of the house! We went specifically to look at couches. We were in the couch section and the kids were enjoying climbing on each couch and trying them out. My daughter was trying to convince us which couch we should get. My older son was happily walking from couch to couch, flopping himself on each one. My baby boy was snuggled into the sling, sound asleep.
After a few minutes, I noticed a well dressed, middle aged man circling the area, getting closer to me and the kids. At one point he came right up to me and the boys, and instinctively I put myself between him and my mobile son. I had a bad feeling. He continued to circle the area, staring at the kids. He occasionally picked something up, pretending to look at it but looking right over at us instead. My mom noticed as well and mentioned that we needed to keep an eye on him.
We moved on… and so did he. Closely. My son wandered into one of the little display rooms across from the couches and I followed him closely with my baby strapped to me. My mom said she watched as the older man dropped what he was doing and quickly and closely followed us into the area. At the same time, she noticed another man dressed more casually and in his 20s. He wasn’t looking at us, but was walking the same circling pattern around us as the first man. My mom and I decided to sit down and wait for them to move on. We had a gut feeling something was going on, but we hoped we were wrong and they would move on. So we sat in one of the little display rooms. For close to 30 minutes. And they sat too. They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced us. That was when we knew our gut feeling was right and something was off.
They sat the whole time we sat, and stood up right as we got up. We continued on and my mom turned around and realized the two men had moved and were sitting only one couch away from each other, still facing our direction. The older man was still watching us. She made eye contact… very clearly letting them know that we saw them. And we moved on. We managed to lose them at that point. (We talked with an employee, circled back and used the bathroom and went out into a different section). But still kept the kids right with us the whole time. I kept the baby in the sling which kept my hands free and my eyes too. I didn’t have to keep an eye on the stroller AND two kids… I just had to watch my older ones. When we got through the maze of IKEA, we reported what happened to security.
After talking through the experience, there are some things I want to point out.
These men weren’t shopping. While they walked around the store, they weren’t looking at things… not really. The older man would occasionally pick something up and act like he was looking at it, but he’d look right over the top of it at my kids. Then he’d drop it and move on as soon as we did.
They weren’t waiting for anyone. Often you see men in a place like IKEA waiting for their wives, but these guys appeared to be alone. They didn’t even talk to each other. They didn’t talk to anyone. They didn’t smile casually at people (in fact, early on, I looked at the older guy when he got close to us and smiled… which is something I do regularly when I’m out.. I’m always making eye contact with people. He instantly looked away. That was odd to me).
They were dressed nicely but very differently. I would never have put these two together. And they didn’t appear to be together.
The area they were hanging around had an exit right by it. IKEA is a massive confusing maze of a store. But they could have run out that exit with my child and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before I could find them.
Something was off. We knew it in our gut. I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking. This is happening all over. Including the United States. It’s in our backyards. I’m reading more and more about these experiences and it’s terrifying. If not that, something else shady was obviously going on. Either way, as parents, we NEED to be aware.
Please PLEASE be aware when you’re out with your children. It’s not the time to be texting or facebooking or chatting on the phone. When you’re in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don’t become a victim. Had I not been paying attention that day… or had I let my kids roam and play while I checked my phone… I may have lost one. The thought just makes me completely ill. (Especially because I’ve been guilty of this!)
Also, in hindsight, I would have taken a picture of the guys. Probably right in their faces so they saw me do it.
Trust your gut. It’s there for a reason.
**after reading many of the comments I want to add a few things. Some of which I feel like are so unnecessary, and yet many comments are calling into question my parenting and my children’s behavior.
My children were not using the couches as a jungle gym or misbehaving. We were in the market for a couch and therefore sitting on different couches to try them out. When I say climbing, I literally mean they climbed onto the couch to sit down. They’re short. They’re kids.
My children are also well behaved. They listen. They stay with me. I was 100% watching them when all of this happened. They were already close by me. I was not on my cell phone before this happened. I was very aware of my surroundings which is a big part of why I noticed this.
The photo attached to this post was taken by my mom before this all happened. This is the couch I liked and wanted my husband (who wasn’t with us) to see. So she took a picture.
This took place in Southern California, however, kids can be targeted anywhere.
If I could go back and do things differently, there are some things I would change. Many people have questioned why I didn’t immediately contact an employee or call the police. To be honest, we were so focused on where the kids were and keeping a distance from these men that we weren’t thinking about much else. I loved someone’s suggestion of using my cell phone to call the store and ask for security and explain the situation. That’s an excellent tool if someone is ever uncomfortable. Our IKEA (I’m not sure if this is true of all) doesn’t have a lot of employees in this particular area. So calling the store would have been an excellent idea.
This was not an employee that was undercover or loss prevention. We spoke quite extensively with the head of security when this was over.
This is not meant to scare you. We have to live our lives. I will go back to that IKEA again. Please don’t boycott IKEA. The truth is, we need to be aware no matter where we are when we are with our kids. And unfortunately we can’t always assume the best of people. Live your life. Take your kids places. But be aware. And be attentive.
Something was not okay here. This was not a situation that I misunderstood. Do I know 100% what harm these men intended? No. I’m taking an educated guess based on how things played out and what I know. But even if I am wrong about their specific intentions… I KNOW they were up to something and focused on me and my children.
Since posting this, I have been contacted by a LOT of people. More than I can keep up with. Some have been incredibly kind, and some not so much. The truth is, I will never know exactly what was going on that day because thank GOD we got out of there safely. It could have been a number of things. I do not claim to be an expert on human trafficking. I mentioned it because that was my first reaction. Since this post has been so widespread, I wanted to use it to point you to a couple of really good resources if you’re interested in learning more about human trafficking or how you can help. www.IJM.org and www.a21.org are two great resources.
One more thing that has less to do with what happened and more to do with this post. I did not intend for this to spread the way it has. I simply posted experience, hoping to remind my mom friends to be aware and diligent. Friends couldn’t share it with whoever they wanted to and the privacy settings wouldn’t allow them to tag. So at the request of friends who wanted to share, I chose to post it again publicly. My kids ages are listed because I had posted it in a baby wearing group I’m part of and that’s where I reposted this from. I did not expect this response, and frankly it makes me a little uncomfortable because of some of the comments. My intention is that someone will read this and remember to pay attention to their children, and help keep kids safe!
Guys, you are my tribe and I am asking you to please, please, please share this post. Please get the word out. Please don’t let this happen to you or anyone you know.
In my world full of distractions I try to remember to always be on my game when are my kiddos are a factor. Sometimes it seems like a quick call, a response to a text, or taking a quick peek around a corner would be harmless and in most instances it would, but in this case the result could have been tragic.
Diandra, from the bottom of my heart… thank you very much for graciously sharing your story. I know it will help many.
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