Fact Check: Truck Driver Did NOT Rescue 'Approximately 15' Children 'Trapped In Padlocked Cages' On Pickup Truck -- It Was Mother, Her 4 Kids Heading Home, Police Say

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Truck Driver Did NOT Rescue 'Approximately 15' Children 'Trapped In Padlocked Cages' On Pickup Truck -- It Was Mother, Her 4 Kids Heading Home, Police Say Not Kidnappers

Did a truck driver in New Mexico rescue "Approximately 15 Children Trapped in Padlocked Cages in the Back of a Pickup Truck" during a kidnapping incident? No, that's not true: The New Mexico State Police told Lead Stories, "This story is not correct, this was a mother and her four kids, not a human trafficking incident."

The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by The Gateway Pundit on August 30, 2023, titled "Kidnappers Caught in the Act: Heroic Truck Driver Rescues 'Approximately 15' Children Trapped in Padlocked Cages (VIDEO)." The story opened:

In a spine-chilling incident, a vigilant truck driver, who goes by the name Michael, became a hero by alerting authorities about a deeply unsettling situation.

Michael was parked in a rest area off I-10 in New Mexico when he witnessed a pick-up truck pull up nearby. A man and woman proceeded to unlock a padlocked cage beneath a tarp in the back of the truck, from which they released several children.

This is what the post looked like on The Gateway Pundit website at the time of writing:

Gateway Pundit.png

(Source: The Gateway Pundit screenshot taken on Tue Sep 5 22:26:15 2023 UTC)

The video

The details in The Gateway Pundit article largely come from a video posted to YouTube by truck driver Michael W. Stauffer on his channel "trucking with Mike." In the video titled "Kidnappers caught in action trying to take kids 😢 (MUST WATCH) #JCTCREATOR" published on June 19, 2023, Stauffer gives this account of the incident, starting at about the 4:30 mark:

I'm sitting at a rest area. This truck pulls up, opens up the back. It's like a cage-looking thing. I'll get a better look at it for you. [drives by the scene] That guy and this lady have a whole bunch of kids in the back of that truck ... You see a truck pull up in the middle of the night, 2 o'clock in the morning ... they take the padlock off, raise the tarp and all these kids come out the back, and they're forcing them into the bathroom. When they coming back out, they were pushing the kids back in there, lock them back in there and pulled the fucking tarp down.

Here's a screenshot of the truck Stauffer said had the children in the back of it. It appears at 4:41 in the video:

truck in video.png

(Source: YouTube screenshot taken on Wed Sep 6 15:49:41 2023 UTC)

About six minutes into the video, Stauffer continues his story:

So, I call the cops just to be on the safe side ... They [the people with the kids] fucking take off. The cops on the phone with me tell me ... follow them as close as you can, as much as you can until we get units out. They finally caught up to him because I couldn't keep up with them, you know, my truck only goes 70. They catch up to them. They pulled them over. I pull over behind the cops, whatever. I'm only a couple miles behind. I pull over just to see if the police need my assistance, anything, any information they need from me, my statement or whatever. So, I gave him my statement or whatever. The cop tells me, 'Hey, thank you. Four out of five kids have been reported missing.'

Truckload Carriers Association

Stauffer's account earned him the honor of "Highway Angel" from the Truckload Carriers Association. In an August 16, 2023, writeup on the TCA's website (archived here), the article said:

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) has named truck driver Michael (his full name and hometown have been excluded to protect his identity) a TCA Highway Angel for discovering, turning in and chasing human traffickers with multiple children in a cage in the back of a pickup truck. ...

Police also told him for his own protection he should depart, in case anyone affiliatedwith the human traffickers was watching. The father of two young children (including a little girl) Michael was emotionally distraught after the nightmarish discovery.

Mutha Trucker podcast

In an interview on the Mutha Trucker podcast published to YouTube on August 21, 2023, the number of children in the truck grew to "about 15" by Stauffer's estimate. Here's his exchange with Mutha Trucker host Alex Mai:

Mai: In the article, it said ... you thought you saw like three or four kids ...

Stauffer: Yeah

Mai: ... and then they didn't really give a number but was it more than 10 because they really made it sound like it was a lot.

Stauffer: It was about 15, I would say.

New Mexico State Police

Lead Stories reached out to the New Mexico State Police to verify Stauffer's account of this incident. In a September 5, 2023, email, Public Information Officer Ray Wilson said, "This story is not correct, this was a mother and her four kids, not a human trafficking incident." Wilson's email provided additional details:

On June 19, 2023, at around 01:42 a.m., a New Mexico State Police officer on patrol on Interstate 10 near milepost 34 was attempting to locate a truck that was reported to have a cage in the bed. A truck driver had reported the vehicle was at a rest stop and he observed some kids get out of a 'cage' in the back of the truck and use the restroom at the rest stop.

The officer did locate a vehicle matching the description and initiated a traffic stop. The officer noticed a wooden structure in the bed of the truck with a tarp over it. The driver of the vehicle, Rebecca Peralta, 49 of Phoenix, AZ was traveling with her brother and her four children from Mexico back to their residence in Arizona. Three of the children were in the back of the truck sleeping in the wooden structure. Peralta, her brother, and the fourth child were in the cab of the truck. The children were originally all in the cab but wanted to sleep and were allowed to lay down in the back of the truck on beds and sleep.

Everyone's identity was verified with passports. The officer conducted a welfare check on the children. The structure they were in was not locked. The children all had food, did not appear to be in any distress, and there were no signs of foul play. Officers determined there was no apparent criminal activity.

Wilson told Lead Stories that the mother was given seatbelt citations for having the children unrestrained in the back of the truck. All the children were moved to the cab and secured with seatbelts, he added.

Stauffer's identity

In his videos and the articles about him, Stauffer's full name is withheld to "protect his identity" and "in case anyone affiliated with the human traffickers was watching." Lead Stories was able to identify him through information he posted on his YouTube channel.

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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