Ashley Garcia thought she’d found her soul mate. She was 17, and the two had met at a house party in Casper. He was 20 and from out of town, ostensibly in Wyoming to visit family, he told her. They dated for the month he was there, before he returned home to Minnesota.

Not long after he’d gone, Ashley discovered she was pregnant. She called him, and he told her to pack up everything and move to St. Paul to be with him. He promised to take care of her and the baby.

As a teen growing up with a quadriplegic mother who had always been in charge of taking care of her family, the idea of someone else taking care of her for a change sounded pretty good.

The boyfriend said he would pay for her gas money, but first she had to accompany one of his friends on a mission to sell fake ‘cocaine’ to a buyer, which back then didn’t raise any flags, nor did she question the danger of the situation that he’d just put her in as he waited for her to arrive in Minnesota.

Instead, she packed up her car and told her mom she was spending the weekend with a friend, which was nothing new for the teen, so nobody questioned it. She made the 14-hour drive in one night. When she didn’t return after the weekend, her mom called Ashley’s phone to check in with her daughter.

Ashley was pretty vague about her whereabouts and told her mom she’d call her back when she felt ready to talk. Then she threw her phone in the garbage, so nobody would know where she’d gone.

The first night was awesome, she recalled. Not only had he genuinely seemed happy to see her, but he also reiterated his promise to take care of her and the baby. After that first night, she woke up feeling almost guilty about her great new life and that she hadn’t shared any details with her mom and family.

Then that great new life began.

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