Operation Volunteer Strong, conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation jointly with local law enforcement, the U.S. Marshals, and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, has found and rescued 150 missing children, aged 3 to 17, across the state.
The task force recovered the children during multiple sweeps throughout Tennessee, discovering that only a few of those children were victims of human trafficking.
“The situations of the children recovered vary widely,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shelly Smitherman told CNN. The agent stated that the missing children ranged from those who left home during difficult situations, some who were found with non-custodial family members to children “dealing with abuse or exploitation.”
Of all the children recovered, four have been identified as potential human trafficking victims, while a fifth has been confirmed as one. According to CNN, a local Mississippi law enforcement agency and the FBI are still investigating the confirmed trafficking case.
In addition to the recovery of the children, the TBI announced it had made a number of arrests in connection to the missing children. The operation began on Jan. 4 and ended in late February, with each of the three sweeps taking place in a different part of the state.
In East Tennessee, authorities identified 86 missing children, and recovered 56 of them, five of them in other states. In Middle Tennessee, authorities identified 72 missing children, 42 of whom were recovered. In West Tennessee, they identified 82 missing children and recovered 52, three in other states. Efforts to recover the remaining 90 missing children are still underway, according to CNN.
“The U.S. Marshals are committed to assisting state and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children to help prevent their falling victim to crimes of violence and exploitation,” said David Jolley, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “We will use every resource at our disposal to help find these missing children.”
“We can’t give up. We need the public, the media, and all law enforcement to not give up,” said Denny King, U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Tennessee. “If you see something, or know something, say something. We cannot give up and stop searching for our most vulnerable and those who cannot help themselves.”
“I hope this operation changes the course for 150 young lives and leads them to the path of opportunities every child deserves,” said Tyreece Miller, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Tennessee. “Our efforts should also serve notice to those who prey on society’s most vulnerable that these children are not forgotten. Investigations will continue and the next knock at the door could be for you.”