Georgia officials announced that agents rescued nearly 40 missing or at-risk children over the weekend.
In a two-week mission called “Operation Not Forgotten,” the US Marshals Service found 13 missing children and 26 endangered children in the Atlanta and Macon metro areas.
Authorities say that the missing children were “some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases,” since many were likely victims of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, and abuse. Furthermore, most of the recovered suffer from some medical or mental health condition.
As part of the operation, officers arrested nine adults on charges including sex trafficking, parental kidnapping and custodial interference. Other charges included sex offender and weapons violations. As of Monday, however, authorities had not identified the suspects.
Those involved in the rescue mission have stressed the importance of their tireless efforts.
“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.”
Indeed, there is a high likelihood that juveniles who flee from home will end up in a dangerous or exploitative situation. US Marshals Director Donald Washington says that the FBI reports over 421,000 missing children a year. Of that group, 90% are considered “endangered runaways.” And 1 in 6 endangered runaways is likely to become a victim of sex trafficking.
Moreover, the exploitation of young women in the American south is particularly troubling. Director Washington says that about 300 girls in the Atlanta area alone are lured into trafficking each month. Still, the US Marshals Service has stressed its commitment to the victims and their families. “We will never stop looking for you,” he said in a live statement.