Young teen shares harrowing experience

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Erica Gamerdinger, left, of Garber was coerced into running away with a teenage boy last July. The incident caused a nationwide search involving law enforcement agencies. Above, Erica and her friend, Lillie. (Photo submitted)

Submitted by Erica and Jen Gamerdinger

Hello, my name is Erica Gamerdinger and I have two amazing parents and five crazy siblings. We all live on an organic dairy farm by Garber. My siblings and I have been homeschooled our entire lives.

Although I should have known better at 13 years old, I guess I didn't because I'm here telling my story. I never imagined that someone could manipulate me so easily. It wasn't until months after, that I realized what he had done to me.

To start from the beginning, I met this guy (my ex boyfriend) in a homeschool group chat on Facebook messenger. He was 15 at the time and I fell for him really quick.

He had told me some stuff about his parents – like that they were abusive and that he wanted to run away, but that he wouldn't run away without me. At first I refused to go, especially since we were in different states. I had been talking about him to my parents for a while, and we had decided to do our family vacation near him so that they could meet him. He took total advantage of that situation. 

One day he told me that his dad had choked him, and the abuse was getting really bad and that was what finally convinced me to run away with him. I thought that by going with him I would be helping/saving him.

I wasn't thinking about how my family was going to feel though. By running away I put everyone around me, as well as complete strangers, through hell for three days.

I was so caught up in the moment. I would have never thought he could be so deceiving and misleading. I was so naïve – and oh how wrong I was.

But anyways, we came up with this plan and we met up by a nearby railroad bridge. I wasn't held captive at any point just to make that clear. I should have probably realized something was off when we ran into the same lady two different times, and each time he tried getting a ride with her. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so. The freaky thing is she was the first person (other than my mom and the Police) that my dad talked to because her house was the next house down the road from where the guy and I met up. So she, without a doubt knew I was missing, but didn't ever tell him or the police that she saw me and she even had several chances. But she didn't tell my dad until after the police had us. The third time he tried to get a ride with her I gave in and said ok. I came within about four hours of never being heard from again. 

We were killing time waiting for the lady to get off work when two people from the guy's church saw us and then they called the cops. They caught us soon after and I'm so thankful they did! My situation could have very easily taken a turn in a much worse direction very quickly.

A couple weeks after I got home my mom forced me to go to a human trafficking workshop and it opened my eyes a lot but not fully. She also forced me to go to a Christian counselor lady. For the record, I'm glad she forced me to do both things. But the only thing that really helps is time.

My advice to others is that you should always be careful with who you talk to online, and NEVER MEET THEM ALONE. You should always let someone else (aside from the person or people going with you) know when and where you are meeting.

Honestly I never thought this would happen to me and I still can't believe I was so stubborn and let this happen. When manipulation is involved you become blind and can't see what's going on. That's why it's important to be perceptive.

My life has changed so much since this happened, hopefully for the better though. I know God can use this for good. I hope that by telling my story it can help at least one person.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity! I truly hope this can help people!

* * *

In conclusion, Erica shared this advice from a friend, "If something feels off about the situation you are in, or the person you're with, tell an adult or someone you know you can trust. DON'T HIDE IT!"

If you see something, say something

Human trafficking can happen anywhere at any time and look different each time. It is unlikely you will be able to actually recognize a victim just by their appearance.  If you see something that doesn't "look right," report it immediately.

• Call your local law enforcement agency by dialing 911 and reporting what you see

• For victim services in Iowa, contact the Iowa Helpline at 1-800-770-1650 or text "IOWAHELP" to 20121

• Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, toll-free, at 1-888-373-7888 (to report a tip or request services) 

Your calls will help law enforcement respond and investigate, and there is no consequence for being mistaken.  The trafficker is hoping you won't call; the victim's only hope is that you will.

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