How one man’s imagined discovery of a sex-trafficking camp in the Sonoran Desert gained life online — and in the real world.
On May 31, a strange story aired on the nightly news in Tucson, Arizona. KOLD News 13 reporter Kevin Adger told viewers that a local veterans’ rights activist named Lewis Arthur had made a horrific discovery in the bushes beside a frontage road: a bunker used as a stopover by child sex traffickers. The reporter pointed out children’s clothes, an old toilet seat and a septic tank where Arthur claimed kids had been held against their will.
Arthur had stumbled across the camp while canvassing the area for homeless vets. He posted an outraged rant on Facebook and started getting comments — a lot of them. When he posted videos arguing that there were probably bodies buried at the camp and that it was part of a network of Arizona sex trafficking sites, he topped 680,000 views in days.
There was just one problem with Arthur’s story: It wasn’t true. Tucson police and sheriff’s deputies both investigated the site and found nothing more than a former homeless camp — no evidence of sex trafficking. Arthur then claimed he and two friends had found proof: a child’s skull. Officers sent the skull to the Pima County medical examiner, who concluded that it had belonged to an adult and been found miles away from the homeless camp.