How would you feel if authorities contacted you to reveal that your teenage daughter, who told you she was spending the night at a friend's house, had just been rescued from a potential online predator?
That's what happened when Denice Miracle, a ticket agent working for American Airlines, saved two teenage girls from what appears to be a potential human trafficking plot.
Two girls, aged 15 and 17, approached Miracle's ticket counter at American Airlines with first-class tickets for a flight from Sacramento to New York. They had a small number of bags but no identification, which set off warning signals; then, Miracle noticed the girls' tickets were purchased online using a credit card with a different name.
"I think the way they kept looking back-and-forth at each other, like they really weren't sure," Miracle said in an interview with KOVR. "And then they were texting someone on the phone, and that person was giving them answers."
One more detail, that the girls didn't even seem to realize:
The tickets were only valid one-way.
Miracle told her supervisor she was going to call the sheriff.
The teens told authorities they met a man on Instagram who called himself "Drey." He invited the girls to New York to do modeling work for music videos. He promised to pay them $2,000.
Deputy Todd Sanderson says the girls initially refused to believe they were in danger, insisting the idea that they were being preyed upon couldn't be true.
"They were somewhat flippant about [it]," said Sanderson. "And I said, 'No, the airline says you have a one-way ticket. And in my belief, you're going back there not to do the things that you think you were going to be doing.' And they said, 'Well, I wouldn't let anything happen that I didn't want.' And I said, 'Well, you probably wouldn't have a choice in the matter,'" Sanderson said.
Authorities tried to track down Drey through his Instagram account, just a few minutes after contacting him. But Sanderson says the man had already erased all his social media profiles.
In a press release, American Airlines praised its employee.
"I'm proud of Denice and how she put her training into action to save these children," said Sacramento General Manager Aleka Turner. "She's a true professional with a huge heart."
How emotional intelligence came into play
This story is a remarkable example of both the good and evil sides of emotional intelligence--the ability to identify emotions and use them to inform behavior or accomplish a goal. The alleged perpetrator obviously used the power of emotion to befriend these girls and gain their trust, to the point that they were willing to lie to their parents and board a plane heading thousands of miles away. (We refer to this as the "dark side" of emotional intelligence.)
But Miracle, whose name seems to perfectly fit this situation, demonstrated how emotional intelligence can be used to protect yourself--or in this case, others--against manipulation. The airline employee could have simply sent the girls home, but she thought better of it.
"They kept looking at each other in a way that seemed fearful and anxious," said Miracle. "I had a gut feeling that something just wasn't right."
By trusting that feeling, which was based on years of experience, Miracle was motivated to get authorities involved--saving these two girls from potential disaster.
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A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.