Diandra Toyos, a mom from Southern California, took to Facebook on Thursday to share a harrowing account of what she claims was a close encounter with human traffickers.
The mother of three says she was visiting IKEA to look for couches with her mother, her 4-year-old daughter and her two sons, one who is 1.5 years old and the other who is 7 weeks old, when the unthinkable nearly happened to her family.
"I read things like that, and I always think 'wow, that's so scary... I need to be careful'. But I also always think 'that could never happen to me,'" wrote Toyos.
"But you guys, it did."
Toyos said she first thought something might be awry when she noticed "a well dressed, middle aged man" circling the area where her family was testing out couches.
"At one point he came right up to me and the boys, and instinctively I put myself between he and my mobile son," she wrote. "I had a bad feeling. He continued to circle the area, staring at the kids. He occasionally picked something up, pretending to look at it but looking right over at us instead."
Toyos said eventually, even her mother noticed the man's odd behavior and mentioned that "we needed to keep an eye on him."
But when the family moved on to another room, so did he.
"My mom said she watched as the older man dropped what he was doing and quickly and closely followed us into the area," she wrote.
That's when Toyos noticed a second man, "dressed more casually and in his 20s," who "wasn't looking at us, but was walking the same circling pattern around us as the first man."
Toyos and her family decided to wait for the suspicious pair to move on, so she says they sat in a display room for close to 30 minutes -- but the men sat and waited, too.
"They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced us," she wrote. "That was when we knew our gut feeling was right and something was off."
The men continued to mimic the Toyos' actions, sitting while they were sitting, and standing up whenever they would stand up.
"We continued on and my mom turned around and realized the two men had moved and were sitting only one couch away from each other, still facing our direction," she wrote. "The older man was still watching us. She made eye contact... very clearly letting them know that we saw them. And we moved on. We managed to lose them at that point. (We talked with an employee, circled back and used the bathroom and went out into a different section)."
Since it was posted to Facebook on March 23, Toyos' cautionary tale has been shared over 82,000 times and has racked up more than 18,000 reactions.
Toyos said she's "almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking" and that she's relieved she trusted her gut during the stressful situation.
She offered the following piece of advice to parents everywhere in wake of the incident, which she says is paramount in keeping kids across the country safe.
"Please PLEASE be aware when you're out with your children. It's not the time to be texting or facebooking or chatting on the phone. When you're in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don't become a victim. Had I not been paying attention that day... or had I let my kids roam and play while I checked my phone... I may have lost one. The thought just makes me completely ill."