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A DSS special agent reviews paperwork while another secures Henri Piette to a chair upon his arrival in Dallas, Texas, October, 2017. Piette was sentenced to life in prison in February 2020. (U.S. Department of State photo)

It was a clear, sunny morning in July 2016 at the U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Mexico, when a 32-year-old mother and eight of her children appeared at the consulate gates. The local guards on duty processed the group through security and escorted them to a quiet room inside the compound.

The woman was Rosalynn McGinnis, an Oklahoma native, who had been kidnapped by her stepfather, Henri Piette, in 1997. She had been subjected to violence and sexual abuse for two decades and forced to bear nine children, fathered by Piette.1 She had finally found the courage to escape her kidnapper and wanted to return to the United States.

Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Assistant Regional Security Officer-Investigator (ARSO-I) Clifton Funkhouser sat down with McGinnis to learn more details about her situation.

McGinnis told Funkhouser that she had been kidnapped around the age of 10 and had been tortured throughout her captivity. She described her horrible living conditions and the abuse Piette reigned on her and the children. McGinnis also said that Piette had been involved in human smuggling activities at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Funkhouser passed the information to consular colleagues who led the process to repatriate McGinnis and her children to the United States.

“I’m happy we were able to safely get Rosalynn and eight of her children out of harm’s way,” said Funkhouser.

According to DSS Special Agent Funkhouser, after the team’s initial interviews with McGinnis, he contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to report the situation and referred the case to the FBI.

The ARSO-I team continued to work with McGinnis after she was in the United States. Due in large part to McGinnis’ statements – and dozens of copies of IDs, birth certificates, and Mexican documents – the Mexican prosecutor’s office initiated federal charges against Piette.

In September 2017, DSS confirmed that Piette was in Mexico. It was the first time any U.S. authority had located him since he’d disappeared from Oklahoma in 1997. The FBI and Mexican authorities worked together to get the proper paperwork to remove Piette from Mexico and return him to the United States. DSS continued to work with the consular staff at U.S. Consulate Nogales and local Mexican authorities to support the case.

Eventually, the investigative team tracked Piette to Oaxaca, Mexico, where Mexican authorities detained and arrested him.

In October 2017, U.S. authorities returned Piette to the United States to face his crimes. DSS special agents assigned to the Dallas Resident Office were there to meet Piette when his plane landed and immediately placed him in custody.

On February 25, 2020, more than 20 years after Rosalynn McGinnis and her former stepfather went missing in 1997, Piette finally received his sentence for kidnapping her and subjecting her and her children to years of violence and sexual abuse: life in prison.

“DSS has a unique law enforcement role overseas,” said Funkhouser. “The critical relationship between a consulate’s consular section and DSS ARSO-Is was illustrated in this case, as we were able to immediately support and address a critical situation from different angles to best support the victims.”

U.S. Department of State

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