HOUSTON - From celebrating a quinceañera in May to now planning a funeral, Mariano Serrano is determined to seek justice.
“She died in my arms,” Serrano said in Spanish, fighting back tears.
His 15-year-old daughter, Letty Serrano, took her life early Saturday morning. She locked herself in the bathroom. Serrano recalls doing everything he could to reach her. When he did, it was too late.
He believes Letty couldn't get over being away from the man who trafficked her when she was 13-year-old.
“She wanted to be with him,” he said. “But, she also didn’t want to hurt her family.”
“The family deserves justice and peace of mind that her death is not in vain,” Cynthia Rivera, Letty’s godmother, told FOX 26.
Rivera and Serrano searched for Letty for days when, they say, her trafficker took her near Marshall Middle School in North Houston in 2017.
“We were able to locate her and call HPD and have this animal arrested,” Rivera explained.
However, she says, he was let go after a few days. The family adds after Letty’s abduction, she ran away from home twice to be with him. They believe the trafficker worked with at least three other men to move her around and drug her.
Rivera says they preyed on her vulnerabilities.
“She was a good student, good grades, quiet, kind of a loner, and her brother had just passed. She was a perfect target for them,” Rivera added shaking her head.
“I want to see him in court,” Serrano said firmly. “I want to tell him it’s his fault my daughter is dead.”
Commander Jim Dale is over the Houston Police Department Vice Division. He learned about Letty’s death Monday.
“I have requested an interview with my investigators so we can reopen the case,” Dale told FOX 26.
He says this also speaks to the need to do more in training in schools just like it’s done in the hospitality industry and transportation hubs.
“She was a victim and somehow her cries fell through the cracks and I think that’s why it’s so imperative that we get the schools involved,” Dale told FOX 26.
Rivera is also calling on schools to do more around suicide prevention. She says the family met with school officials on Tuesday afternoon.
FOX 26 also reached out to the Houston Independent School District. A spokesperson says the school board passed a resolution against human trafficking last year. The resolution, they add, is not connected to Serrano’s case or any other case. FOX 26 is waiting to hear back if the resolution turned into something tangible or if an educational campaign is underway.
Rivera is also urging her city council district to do more about the abandoned houses where she says Letty was trafficked and, ultimately, found.
“Mattresses, little girls bras, chemicals they use to drugs to mix with,” Rivera said referring to the items found in the house.
“I want the community to come together,” she added. “Houston [needs] to come together and ask for these houses to be removed, torn down.”
FOX 26 reached out to Councilwoman Karla Cisnero’s office. A staff member confirmed that she met with Rivera in early 2018. He added Cisnero reported the house where Letty was found to the Department of Neighborhoods. However, they are going to check to see if anything was ever done to the house.
If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
If you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect someone who now is a victim, contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.