US marshals recover scores of ‘critically missing children’ in latest muti-state operation

A summer sequel worth celebrating, the U.S. Marshals Service announced the results of a joint operation that ended with the recovery of scores of “critically missing children.”

Exploitation, abuse, sex trafficking, and more remained real dangers for adolescents missing from a variety of different circumstances. Monday, the USMS in collaboration with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported that 200 such children had been recovered across the nation as part of a six-week sting dubbed “Operation We Will Find You 2.”

Crediting the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 that granted the USMS enhanced authority to work with local law enforcement to recover missing children, “regardless of whether a fugitive or sex offender was involved,” a release from the agency detailed that of the recoveries, 123 children were in dangerous situations and 77 of the missing were said to have been found in safe locations across seven federal judicial districts between May 20 and June 24.

Out of the total, 173 were said to be endangered runaways, 25 were missing, and two had been abducted — one by a family member. The youngest of the children was reported as being five months old.

“There are no words to describe the terror felt by missing children, their families, and their communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed in a statement on the operation. “I am grateful to the dedicated professionals of the U.S. Marshals Service and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who worked to find 200 critically missing children during this six-week operation, and who work every day to keep children safe.”

Likewise, USMS Director Ronald Davis said, “One of the most sacred missions of U.S. Marshals Service, is locating and recovering our nation’s critically missing children.”

“This is one of our top priorities as there remain thousands of children still missing and at risk,” he added.

The six-week operation in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and Oregon followed its ten-week predecessor from spring 2023 when 225 children had been recovered, 10 of which had made it as far as Mexico.

According to the USMS, “The goal of OWWFY2 was to highlight partnerships amongst government and non-government agencies to develop a multi-disciplinary team whose focus was to pull together resources to find critically missing children and to bring more attention to the epidemic of missing children in America.”

The children recovered “were considered some of the most challenging recovery cases in the area, based on indications of high-risk factors such as victimization of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and medical or mental health conditions. In addition, other children who had been reported missing were located at the request of law enforcement to ensure they were safe and to confirm the child’s location.”

The total number of arrests made during the operation was not specified in the release, but the USMS did highlight a number of “Significant Recoveries” that included a 16-year-old Michigan girl who had been missing since Jan. 11, 2024, said to have been held by a 30-year-old male who had at least one photo on his social media “apparently pointing a handgun with an extended magazine at the missing child.”

“On June 13, USMS personnel attempted to arrest the adult male and recover the child at an apartment in Hammond, Indiana. The adult male jumped out of a window and attempted to flee the area–but was apprehended by a Police K-9 before his eventual arrest. USMS personnel located the child safely inside the apartment and released her to child protective services.”

Another case involved a 16-year-old with “a history of being sex trafficked” who, on April 16, ran away from a group home in Arizona to Los Angeles and Miami before winding up in Flint, Michigan. It was said that her suspected trafficker had been murdered in LA on May 25 before she traveled to Florida where her “new ‘trafficker’ dropped her off at the beach and told her to make money.”

She was ultimately “taken into custody on an outstanding arrest warrant for a probation violation,” on June 11 in Flint where “Her male associate was arrested on local charges for driving without a license and insurance. An additional 20-year-old female was identified in the hotel. The suspected trafficking case was referred to Homeland Security Investigations and they will continue to investigate the case.”

Kevin Haggerty

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