Alleged human trafficking ring exposed in Columbia County
Deputies say woman was held for four days, beaten and sexually assaulted
LAKE CITY, Fla. – An alleged human trafficking ring was uncovered in Lake City Saturday, after detectives say a woman claiming three men abducted her, sexually assaulted her and held her captive in their home was found.
The woman came to police after she escaped from the home and flagged down a car for help.
Officials had been searching for the woman after her family reported her missing when she left in her car to help a friend move and never came home.
"She had a child and the fact that she was away from her child was out of character for her," said Cpl. Murray Smith of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
The SWAT team raided the home and arrested 20-year-old James Harris while Baker County sheriff's deputies caught two more people possibly related to the crime.
Marqui and Gemetrica Church were pulled over driving the victims' car. They've been charged with grand theft autout detectives say they may be involved with what happened at the house.
The home, which sheriff's investigators are calling a house of horrors, was empty Wednesday but deputies say it's where the victim was supposedly held for four days.
According to officials the victim knocked out some boards on the house and escaped through a window before flagging down a probation officer who had been driving down a nearby road.
"Saturday morning, she flagged down a probation officer driving down a nearby road, later telling investigators she had been abducted and assaulted and was luckily able to run away," Smith said.
Kevin Harris, the uncle of Marqui Church, thinks things don't add up though.
"My nephew Marqui, he has always been in and out of trouble and the sheriffs and everybody knows him. My nephew James, he is not that type. He is on probation now and he is just at that house for probation," Harris said.
Harris also said he saw the woman with his nephew Marqui after she was reported missing, but had no idea anyone was looking for her.
"No distress at all, she looked like she was willingly there," Harris said.
Officials say they don't think the victim is making up a story though and are taking the situation very seriously.
"Some of the facts that she stated have been verified by physical evidence and from statements from the suspect," Smith said.
Detectives think there may be more victims and suspects. They are asking the community to contact the Columbia County Sheriff's Office if they have any information.
News4Jax also reached out to the victim's family members who reported her missing, but they didn't answer the door or return a phone call.
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