After Seeing A Man Acting Strangely By Her Kids, A Mom Warned Others About How To Spot Abductors

Something about her young family’s trip to Ikea isn’t sitting right with Diandra Toyos. She pulls her daughter, who’s four, and her two infant sons closer to her, but it does nothing to faze the pair of men circling Toyos and her brood as they peruse the shop’s wares. Soon, she begins to suspect that the strangers may have sinister intentions. To be precise, Toyos fears that they want to abduct her children.

Toyos’ day at Ikea had started out like any other – she’d rounded up her three children and her own mom for the shopping trip. The Covina, California-based mother needed a new couch, so all five of them perused the furniture. Her children tried out the potential new pieces as well, jumping and sitting on the showroom sofas.

But as Toyos and her family looked around, she happened to notice something: wherever she and her brood went, two men seemed to follow. What proceeded to happen was something she’d heard about but never expected to experience herself. As a result, Toyos took to Facebook and, in a post that subsequently went viral, warned parents about the dangers of abduction.

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It’s nigh on impossible for experts to precisely calculate the number of human-trafficking victims, because it’s likely that many remain undetected. Nevertheless, researchers can make educated guesses – and the numbers are staggering. Estimates state that at least 20 million people have been trafficked and transformed into modern-day slaves. And the figure could be twice that amount.

The term “modern-day slave” certainly applies to victims of trafficking. People subjected to this crime are exploited in a variety of ways. While some are forced into marriage or labor, others become prostitutes and earn cash for the person who’s trafficked them. And there are even victims who have their organs harvested.

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And traffickers have a range of different methods to lure people into modern slavery. Some use social media apps and sites to identify people, for example. Then, the traffickers use the very same platforms to advertise the services provided by their victims.

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Traffickers often look to recruit children and young people who’ve left behind unhappy families and homes. Some runaway girls – who’ve frequently already been subjected to sexual abuse – end up as victims of this illegal trade. A good portion of children who end up in sex trafficking rings have been part of the foster-care system, too.

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Amanda Evans, an assistant professor of social work at Florida Gulf Coast University, told ABC7 in September 2018 that traffickers rarely obtain their modern slaves in a “snatch-and-go sort of crime.” Evans explained how these criminals instead form relationships with the people they plan to exploit, which is why they focus on vulnerable teenagers and young adults.

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The Shelter for Abused Women & Children’s chief operating officer, Julie Franklin, agreed with Evans’ assertion. “What we see is that victims are not often taken,” Franklin explained. And she added that traffickers might coerce their victims with drugs, money, shelter or even by feigning love.

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“It doesn’t happen overnight normally,” Franklin continued. “It can happen, but that’s not normally what we’ve seen.” Nonetheless, stories have emerged in which people have feared that they – or their children – were at risk of being abducted by traffickers. And sometimes their experiences took place in plain sight.

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For instance, in June 2016 a Victorville, California, mom stood beside her four-year-old daughter in a shop when the unthinkable happened. Twenty-four-year-old Terry Ransom snatched the little one and dragged her out of the store. But the abductor then thankfully let go of his victim.

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The terrified mother tried to chase Ransom, but she couldn’t catch the attempted kidnapper. Police later tracked down and detained him. In the meantime, they tended to the little girl who’d almost been kidnapped in plain sight. Authorities said she was uninjured, but that she understandably felt shaken up by the incident.

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It’s unclear what Ransom’s intentions were with the four-year-old girl – he could have been a trafficker or a kidnapper, among other things. Regardless of his motives, though, such incidents are incredibly rare. In spite of that, however, hundreds of thousands of children still go missing in the U.S. each year according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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The vast majority of those missing kids haven’t been abducted, though. According to the FBI, almost all of the cases it handles involve children who’ve run away. In fact, its statistics show that annually, on average, fewer than 350 missing people aged below 21 have been kidnapped by a stranger since 2010.

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The FBI also calculates that 95 percent of the Bureau’s cases deal with runaways. In contrast, 0.1 percent of situations involve an abduction at the hands of a stranger. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) vice president, Robert Lowery, explained to Reuters in January 2019 people why might expect the latter figure to be higher.

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“It doesn’t happen very often, but they’re certainly the cases that capture our attention because they strike at our worst fears,” Lowery said. The NCMEC reiterated that abductions by strangers are the rarest type – non-custodial mothers and fathers take one of their own kids much more frequently.

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If a stranger does take a child, though, the NCMEC said that the most common location for such an incident to occur was on the way from or to school. Thankfully, the majority of missing children cases come with a happy ending – the U.S. Justice Department stated in a 2002 paper that the proportion that are found alive stands at 99.8 percent.

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Nonetheless, modern-day parents know about the dangers of abduction and trafficking, and they remain vigilant, regardless of how rare such situations may ultimately be. Reports of suspicious figures lurking in public have swept the internet, too. Moms have allegedly noticed these individuals while out and about with their families at popular spots, including Target, Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby.

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For Diandra Toyos, though, the backdrop for her scary encounter was a California Ikea store. She and her three children – two boys and a girl – loved to spend carefree, fun time together. Toyos described their favorite activities on the website for her wedding photography business.

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As Toyos put it, her “world is pretty great,” especially when she and her children had “Taylor Swift dance parties” together. “Let’s be honest, they are much better dancers than I am,” the mom-of-three added. The quartet also loved to sing – Toyos explained that they did so “loudly in the car to every country song imaginable.”

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However, their 2017 trip to Ikea wouldn’t leave the Toyoses dancing and singing. It all seemed to be normal at first – she and her mother loaded up the kids for the journey, something they did often. “We enjoy going and it’s always nice to get the kids out of the house!” Toyos wrote on Facebook.

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In the back of her mind, though, Toyos had the story of a mother who’d claimed that she and her children had been followed by human traffickers while at Target. “I read things like that, and I always think, ‘Wow, that’s so scary… I need to be careful,’” the photographer wrote. “But I also always think, ‘That could never happen to me.’ But you guys, it did.”

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As Toyos told it, she’d trekked to Ikea “specifically to look at couches.” So she, her mother and her three little ones headed to that section of the store. All had seemed normal at first. “My daughter was trying to convince us which couch we should get,” Toyos wrote. “My older son was happily walking from couch to couch, flopping himself on each one.”

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All the while, Toyos had her youngest son cradled in a sling around her. While he peacefully slept, however, something – or rather someone – caught the mom-of-three’s eye. “I noticed a well-dressed, middle-aged man circling the area, getting closer to me and the kids,” she wrote. “[Then] he came right up to me and the boys.”

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Something told Toyos to stand between the stranger and her older son. However, that apparently didn’t stop the man from continuing to “circle the area, staring at the kids.” And it didn’t seem like he was genuinely shopping, either. “He occasionally picked something up, pretending to look at it but looking right over at us instead,” Toyos recalled.

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The man’s presence didn’t just raise Toyos’ alarm bells, either. Her mother reportedly “noticed as well and mentioned that we needed to keep an eye on him,” the photographer wrote. As a result, she, her mom and her brood moved onto a new area – but the well-dressed man then came after them. Toyos added, “My mom said she watched as the older man dropped what he was doing and quickly and closely followed us into the area.”

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By this point, Toyos had noticed that a 20-something man had started to linger around her and her kids, too. With that, she and her mother chose to stop shopping and instead took a seat in the hope that the men would shuffle off into another part of the store. “We had a gut feeling something was going on, but we hoped we were wrong and they would move on,” Toyos wrote.

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In fact, Toyos, her mom and the kids waited it out in an Ikea display room for half an hour. That was because the men had also decided to sit down on a showroom sofa that overlooked the family. Toyos believed their actions confirmed her suspicions. She wrote, “That was when we knew our gut feeling was right and something was off.”

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Again, when Toyos and her family stood up to move, so did the men. In fact, the two strangers walked to a couch that was even closer to the family. With that, Toyos’ mother decided to do something, staring back at the older man as he watched them. “She made eye contact… very clearly letting them know that we saw them,” Toyos wrote.

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Then, Toyos, her kids and her mother stood up, spoke with an Ikea employee, looped the store, visited the bathroom and exited it into a different section. And their roundabout route apparently helped them to lose the two men, although Toyos “still kept the kids right with [her] the whole time.”

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Before Toyos and her family left the store, though, they informed Ikea’s security team of the strange incident. And afterwards the mom-of-three decided to write about the experience, apparently in the hope that it might help other parents who might find themselves in a similar situation.

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For starters, Toyos alleged that the men had no reason to be in Ikea. “These men weren’t shopping,” she claimed. “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.”

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Toyos stated that the older man would drop also whatever he had when she and her kids moved onto a new part of the showroom. She warned parents to look out for people who “weren’t waiting for anyone.” That was because, as Toyos put it, “Often you see men in a place like Ikea waiting for their wives, but these guys appeared to be alone.”

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The men’s interactions – or rather lack of them – also struck Toyos as odd. “They didn’t even talk to each other,” she asserted. “They didn’t talk to anyone. They didn’t smile casually at people.” In fact, she said, this was one of the first indications that something was off with the older man.

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“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,” Toyos wrote. “He instantly looked away. That was odd to me.” And another cause for concern, she added, was the men’s clothing.

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Both of the men encircling Toyos and her family had on smart clothes, but the two strangers reportedly looked unique enough that they didn’t seem associated. “They were dressed nicely, but very differently,” Toyos claimed. “I would never have put these two together. And they didn’t appear to be together.”

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Finally, Toyos suggested that parents be aware of the people around them, as well as the environment in which they have their kids. She noted that both men seemed to linger near one of the store’s exits. In addition, they’d chosen to visit an Ikea store, which meant they had a huge, winding floorplan to play with.

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“The area they were hanging around had an exit right by it,” Toyos concluded. “Ikea is a massive, confusing maze of a store. But they could have run out of that exit with my child and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before I could find them.”

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Toyos felt as though she’d witnessed human traffickers on the prowl for victims. “I’m reading more and more about these experiences and it’s terrifying,” the photographer wrote. “If not that, something else shady was obviously going on.”

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Perhaps the best bit of advice that Toyos gave came at the end of her Facebook post. Following on from all of her own tips about spotting abductors, she reminded parents to trust their instincts. “Something was off,” Toyos wrote. “We knew it in our gut. As parents, we need to be aware.”

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