Children of the Night

Trafficking survivor and advocate Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew. -Photography by Mike Morgan

Trafficking survivor and advocate Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew.
-Photography by Mike Morgan

Sex trafficking is Maryland’s dirty open secret.

By Ron Cassie - March 2017

It was not the first time “Wendy” had run away and not come home. The quiet 15-year-old from Prince William County, Virginia, chafed under the strict control of her single mom. She had lived previously in Maryland and had friends in Washington, D.C., who would help her get by for short periods.

Melvin Douglas approached her as a friend, too—a potential boyfriend even. She’d met him twice before, briefly, a few weeks earlier on the streets of D.C. The third time that the 31-year-old Douglas spotted her, they talked more. He offered to buy her a meal and a place to stay. He paid to get her nails and hair done, made her feel special, and told her that he cared about her.

Ten months later, in early 2012, Wendy’s photograph popped up on Cpl. Chris Heid’s computer. She was still missing. Heid had just begun working with the Maryland State Police’s Child Recovery Unit. “She looked like any schoolgirl,” he says of the image of Wendy distributed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He asked the Prince William Police Department if they minded if he looked into the case...