WHEELER COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - The Cornerstone Church in Wheeler was packed today as parents and young adults gathered to learn about the dangers of human trafficking and modern day slavery.
While it's a growing problem across the nation, the Wheeler County Sheriff's Office hopes today's program makes local residents realize that it could happen anywhere.
The most common age children enter human trafficking is 14 to 16 years old.
Investigator Jayme Schlabs said one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking it won't happen in a small town like Wheeler.
"It's very prevalent, it's here and we've gotta do what we can to combat it with our kids," said Schlabs.
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension's Wheeler County Agent Wendy Hazzard said social media plays a part in targeting teenagers.
"With social media and the internet, people have access to our small community unlike they had in 10, 15, 20 years ago," said Hazzard. "So it's really important that we know and are educated to prevent this sort of stuff from happening and for parents to have that knowledge to protect their kids and know what they're looking for."
The topic of human trafficking hits close to home for Schlabs, who is currently investigating leads in the case of missing Wheeler County teenager Allison Dickey.
"Just look at Facebook look at any social media, you see missing teenagers go missing all the time," said Schlabs. "Is it something that we're worried about with Allison, absolutely. But I think it's something we worry about with every teenager that we see on Facebook or the news or whatever that is missing."
Those who attended were shown videos and graphic pictures to teach them how to identify human trafficking victims, the dangers of social media and how to talk with their children about online predators.
They also identified major highways in the Panhandle like I-40 as danger zones.
"I think it's important for the parents to understand this is where it's happening and monitoring their social media, monitoring their apps on their phones, their telephone calls, things like that is important to catch it early," said Schlabs.
Parents like Marianne Smith said this program gives them confidence to stay in touch with their children's social life.
"Our kids need to see that we care and it's not just we're trying to make their life difficult by seeing who they text, or telling them to be careful of what they see on social media and who they're texting," said Smith. "It's going to help them know that this is really serious stuff."
Organizers are looking to teach students in the area about the dangers of human trafficking as well.
For more information on the program, call the Wheeler County Sheriff's Office at (806)826-5537.