Caleb lept out of the SUV and sprinted behind the heavily armed police assault unit. They ran full-tilt through crowded alleyways, careening around sharp corners and brushing past startled pedestrians. Any one of the passersby could warn their targets that police were incoming. Haste was paramount if they were going to rescue the little girl at the target location.
Breathing heavily, Caleb redoubled his efforts. He’d waited almost two years for this day.
Back in October 2021, one of Caleb’s Thai informants reached out. The informant said that he’d been contacted by a child trafficker through a dating site, and the criminal was offering live sex videos with very young children. Once Caleb’s team fact-checked the information, he went undercover.
Under a false identity, Caleb joined the dating platform. He didn’t have to wait long before the trafficker started sending him unsolicited messages. The trafficker, who we’ll call TJ, sent Caleb horrifying videos of children being sexually abused, some of them as young as two years old, as a “preview” of the type of material he could provide via livestream.
Appalled by what he was seeing, Caleb started building a case. He noticed a distinctive building in the background of one video that let him know that the perpetrator was calling from the Philippines. From there, Caleb began the gruelling, heartbreaking work of poring over the videos for clues, all while maintaining seemingly friendly contact with the trafficker so TJ wouldn’t grow suspicious.
As months passed, Caleb worked on other cases and rescued other children but never stopped trying to locate this particular trafficker. Without ever purchasing or even asking for child sexual abuse material (CSAM), Caleb played the part of an interested but uncommitted customer.
As time passed, some of the children became familiar. One particular little girl named Chelsea was offered again and again. Caleb learned that she was only 3 years old. His heart burned every time the bright-eyed, innocent child was offered for a live-streaming sex show. He longed to see the dear girl freed from the horrors she was facing.
Photos of Chelsea the perpetrator sent to Caleb
Soon, Caleb discovered why she was offered so often: Chelsea was TJ’s neighbour. He learned that besides suffering abuse from TJ, the child’s mother was both complicit and occasionally involved in the recorded abuse. Under an onslaught of thousands of messages from TJ in his relentless attempts to exploit the child, Caleb resolutely built his case.
A link to reality
Caleb spent hundreds of hours examining TJ’s burner Facebook page. He looked into every contact, every friend of a friend, until something caught his eye. An image from a person three connections away from TJ’s page stopped Caleb cold. The profile picture showed a woman who lived in a poorer district of a major city. And standing next to her was a little girl. “Her daughter’s face looked very familiar to me straight away,” Caleb recalled.
He’d found Chelsea.
Armed with the mother’s public profile page, Caleb brought his research to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Filipino equivalent of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS). Because the NBI has collaborated with Destiny Rescue in the past, they agreed to start the paperwork to build a legal case. In the meantime, they encouraged Caleb to continue his investigation. There wasn’t much information on the Facebook page, and the team still needed an actionable address to perform a raid.
Caleb dove back in, looking for clues about where the victim lived. This phase of the investigation gave him an insight into the victim’s life that he doesn’t often see as an online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) agent. Caleb had witnessed the child’s horrific abuse. Now, he got a rare perspective of her life outside of exploitation.
Caleb saw posts that portrayed her as a happy, school-aged child. He saw, through videos and posts from Chelsea’s mother, the bright child learn to ride a bike. He saw her laughing and smiling as he virtually “attended” her fifth birthday party, live-streamed by her mother. And all the while, he continued to receive messages and calls from TJ, offering to exploit the beautiful, innocent girl in the most depraved ways.
Caleb felt he’d never been closer to finding her, but he was also in agony. Despite 15 years in law enforcement and another five working to rescue children, he described this case as “the most traumatic” to him personally because of the amount of CSAM he was exposed to and the time he spent waiting to rescue the child. He knew Chelsea was currently being abused and that every day the case continued, she was subjected to more atrocities for the twisted pleasure of warped men.
So he worked on relentlessly until he noticed a unique detail in a few pictures. The victim’s mother appeared to sell clothing on the street, and behind her was a very unique gate. If he could find that gate, he’d find Chelsea’s home.
Chelsea poses in front of the green gate
On Google Maps… I walked the streets,” Caleb said.
Using Google’s street view, Caleb travelled up and down the city roads from his computer. He painstakingly worked through the entire urban area, street by street, looking for a single gate.
After hours of work, he found it. “I’ll never forget the look of it,” Caleb recalled, “that very distinctive green gate.”
His months-long, heartbreaking, relentless investigation had finally produced the most vital piece of information of all: he finally knew where Chelsea lived.
After presenting the full case to the NBI, Caleb flew to the Philippines to assist in the raid and act as a key witness in the case. For the next two weeks, Destiny Rescue (an organisation whose rescue work in the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand Child Rescue helps fund) agents worked with the police to carefully plan the raid. It was during this time that Caleb learned just how prolific TJ was as a child trafficker. The criminal, who’d been on the NBI’s radar for years, had exploited more children to more offenders than any organisation realised.
NBI leadership told Caleb that no less than eight “different international law enforcement agencies… had been hunting that suspect.” During the final briefing, Caleb met a UK National Crime Agency (NCA) representative who’d been sent to participate in the raid. It turned out that TJ was selling his appalling videos to paedophiles all over the world, including the UK, and the NCA had been trying to take him down for around two years.
Thanks to Caleb’s tireless commitment to Chelsea’s rescue, they were closer than ever to ending TJ’s vile, extensive exploitation operation.
Finally, the morning of the raid came. Caleb said that to bust TJ legally, he’d need “to be caught in the act of offering a child for sexual exploitation.” Since Caleb had communicated with the trafficker for so long, playing the role of the “sex buyer” fell to him. That wasn’t a problem since TJ was a relentless salesman, incessantly texting and calling his “clients” throughout the day. What was a problem was who he offered to abuse.
The offender called me with three other victims that morning,” Caleb remembered. “One being… what looked like a newborn baby, about six months old, lying in their crib.”
But the team only knew where Chelsea lived; indeed, they were already in police SUVs and en route to Chelsea’s home address. If they wanted to take TJ down, they’d need to get him to Chelsea’s home. So as TJ offered one helpless child after another to Caleb (one call showed a young girl appearing to wipe tears out of her eyes), Caleb acted disappointed, insisting that he was only interested in Chelsea.
The team collectively held their breath as TJ grew more frustrated with Caleb, angry that he wouldn’t accept one of the other children. But Caleb built a strong rapport with TJ over the past year and a half. So, even as police drove closer to Chelsea’s residence, TJ made the trip over to her home as well. Finally, TJ video-called one more time, and standing next to the evil criminal was the small, bright-eyed girl Caleb had sought for so long. It was finally time to rescue her.
Caleb and the police burst into Chelsea’s home. As soon as TJ saw the armed officers, he made a break for it, pitching his phone away as he ran. However, his escape attempt was short-lived, and he was soon seated on the pavement outside in handcuffs, surrounded by armed officers.
The international child trafficker, wanted by police all over the world for years, was finally under arrest.
Fortunately, an agent recovered the phone. Caleb convinced TJ to unlock the device, providing a wealth of information for prosecutors. Not only was the phone inundated with enough incriminating CSAM to put TJ away, but it also revealed over 100 foreign contacts worldwide, including some in Australia, Norway, the UK and the US.
Those contacts are all suspected CSAM buyers who’d paid TJ to abuse children for their warped pleasure. Thanks to those contacts, Destiny Rescue will be able to assist not only the NBI, but law enforcement agencies worldwide in attacking the “demand” side of child trafficking.
Both Chelsea’s mother and one of TJ’s accomplices were also arrested on the scene. The three handcuffed criminals were taken back to police headquarters for inquest and later charged with multiple crimes, including human trafficking and child abuse. Investigators discovered that Chelsea’s mother had also suffered sexual exploitation when she was 13 years old.
Unfortunately, agents see this pattern all too often. Victims are often brainwashed by their traffickers into thinking that sexual exploitation is a normal part of life. Without intervention, the tragedy of exploitation can become a cycle that wreaks havoc on innocent children for generations.
The team also rescued two more of TJ’s victims that day, and information gathered on the case is leading police to five more children they hope to rescue in the very near future.
As soon as officers secured the location, Chelsea was quickly removed from the premises.
This part of the operation is often traumatic for the survivor. Most young children who suffer online exploitation don’t understand what’s happening to them, especially if a parent is involved.
Chelsea’s mother, the same woman who fed her, tucked her in at night, and celebrated her fifth birthday with a party just a few weeks earlier was also the woman who told her to do what TJ said, who participated in her abuse for money.
For children like Chelsea, it’s just another part of daily life, however strange or painful. But when masked officers with guns rush in and take them from their families, these children often feel more like they are being kidnapped rather than rescued. “They still love their parents,” Caleb said. “It doesn’t matter what they do to them… so (the raid) is normally very, very traumatic.”
But Chelsea was different. Caleb recalled his surprise at her reaction to the raid: “This kid just had some bravery about her that was quite remarkable.”
The little girl, who Caleb describes as “an absolutely beautiful, sharp kid,” was a “very, very small five-year-old—probably about equivalent in size to a 3-year-old.”
Despite her young age and diminutive stature, Chelsea showed unexpected intelligence and maturity. “Almost like an old head on very young shoulders,” Caleb said.
When asked if she understood why this was happening, she responded, “It’s because of what TJ did with Mama on the computer.”
Chelsea was taken to police headquarters and placed in a safe, comfortable room with toys and games intentionally designed to let children decompress after a stressful raid. Here, trained social workers gently conduct an initial debriefing.
The bubbly Chelsea set up a toy ice cream stand, happily attempting to sell fake ice cream cones to concerned officers and social workers. The enthusiastic child, her short legs kicking contentedly beneath the toy stand, boldly negotiated prices for her ice cream with a confident familiarity that charmed everyone around her.
The contrast between her bright personality and the awful abuse Caleb had seen her endure was too much for him. He and another agent had to step from the room.
We two grown men just broke down and cried… she gave us a bit of spark to the day when we were feeling kind of down.”
Image is representational
Thanks to Caleb, the NBI and all the other rescue team members who assisted with the case, that little girl’s spark won’t be quenched by ruthless traffickers and their insatiable customers.
Rescue agents can’t keep doing their essential work without your support. Fill out the form below to help rescue a child.
Help us find them.
Help us find them.
Donate with Confidence
Child Rescue Charitable Trust and Child Rescue Charitable Aid Trust are registered New Zealand charities. Separate returns for each charity are filed each year with Charities Services which is a NZ Government organisation under the Department of Internal Affairs.
Annual reports to Charities Services can be viewed here
Please note: Annual Reports on this website will refer to ‘Destiny Rescue’ – Child Rescue’s name in New Zealand until August 2017.