MACON, Ga. – Thirty-nine missing children were rescued after a two-week operation led by the U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit in Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, officials said Friday.
U.S. marshals said during “Operation Not Forgotten,” which was conducted along with other officials, 26 children were rescued and the other 13 were located to make sure they were safe.
Nine people were arrested. Investigators said they filed charges for alleged crimes related to sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, registered sex offender violations, drugs and weapons possession and custodial interference during the operation.
“The U.S. Marshals Service is fully committed to assisting federal, state, and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children, in addition to their primary fugitive apprehension mission,” said Director of the Marshals Service Donald Washington. “The message to missing children and their families is that we will never stop looking for you.”
Investigators said the missing children were considered to be some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases in the area. Investigators said they were able to confirm each child’s location in person and assure their safety.
In 2019, the USMS helped recover 295 missing children and has contributed to the recovery of a missing child in 75% of cases they’ve received. Of the missing children recovered, USMS said 66% were recovered within seven days of the agency assisting with the case. Since its partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children began in 2005, the agency has recovered more than 1,800 missing children.
“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child,” said Darby Kirby, chief of the Missing Child Unit. “It’s hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need.”
On Friday, local authorities sounded the alarm stating with the Coronavirus pandemic children are spending more time online and human trafficking is up.
“Kids are very vulnerable especially now during COVID because they are home more, they are not at school they are more confined to home and that’s a predator’s paradise,” said Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen.
Rosen is determined to fight human trafficking in our community and has a Harris County Precinct One human trafficking hotline you can call at 832-927-1650.
“Unfortunately this something that everybody in America needs to be aware of,” Rosen said.
Former Harris County Chief Prosecutor and founder of Justice for Children, Randy Burton, said that parents need to monitor their children’s internet activity and that minors account for 27% of all human trafficking victims worldwide.
“The sad truth is that there are people in our country who pay good money for children. Statistically, the children at the greatest risk are the ones that have already been abused or neglected,” Burton said.
Burton said the Houston is a hub for human trafficking due to its proximity to the border and a port. Parents need to monitor their children’s social media and online activity according to Burton.
Additional resources Burton recommended:
National Human Trafficking Resources Center- A 24-hour hotline that helps identify, protect and serve the victims of trafficking. Call 1-800-373-7888
The Childhelp National Abuse Hotline- Professional crisis counselors will connect you with a local number to report abuse. Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children- Aimed at preventing child abduction and exploitation, locating missing children and assisting victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation. Call: 1-800-THE-LOST