45 Missing Kids Recovered, 179 People Arrested in Operation Autumn Hope
In the ongoing battle against human trafficking, particularly of children, recovering 45 missing kids may seem like a drop in the bucket, but those are lives saved from unimaginable misery and pain, so I'd call the latest US Marshal operation a victory for the good guys.
While I usually try to bring you stories from Texas, this story out of Ohio was too great of news not to share.
The U.S. Marshals Office recently wrapped up Operation Autumn Hope (OAH), in which several agencies teamed up to locate and recover missing and exploited children.
In a media release, the U.S. Marshal Service reported that OAH led not only to the recovery of 45 missing kids, but to the arrest of 179 people by the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force as well. They were also able to find and check on 20 children whose welfare wasn't certain.
One case involved a 15-year-old girl missing from Cleveland who was able to provide police with information that linked her and other possible victims to a person from Columbus suspected of human trafficking. Sadly, another case led to the arrest of a 15-year-old boy with warrants who is suspected of involvement in multiple shootings and a homicide. He reportedly had a loaded gun on him.
Another case crossed state lines into West Virginia. The USMS Southern Ohio has reason to believe two missing children had been taken to West Virginia, so they the WV State Patrol to be on the lookout for a specific man and his vehicle. That vehicle was eventually spotted, and the children were rescued. The man was charged with concealment/removal of a minor child in Jackson County, WV.
During the operation, local police in Lancaster asked marshals for help finding a 14-year-old girl who'd gone missing in the night. Marshals found and rescued her in Columbus six hours after having been reported missing.
Marshals don't release too many details after these operations for the privacy and protection of the young victims, so I can't imagine what these kids have seen or been through. All I can say is that it always does my heart good to be able to share news like this with you. Many of these children may be facing a lengthy recovery and healing process, but it's comforting to know that they now have a fighting chance.
Back in August, 39 children were located or rescued as part of Operation Not Forgotten in Georgia. I'm sure we'll see more successful operations like this in the near future, and hopefully here in Texas.
According to the Texas Attorney General's Office, there are about 79,000 victims of youth and minor sex trafficking in Texas at any given time, and 234,000 victims of labor trafficking. It's modern slavery, and it's not something we can turn a blind eye to or ever for a moment accept.
If you're a victim of human trafficking or suspect it's happening in your community, reach out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888, or by texting "Help" or "Info" to 233733. Victims can also call 9-1-1 or their local police department.
Here in Central Texas, we're at the intersection of two major interstates. That's prime territory for human trafficking. We've all got to be aware of the problem and vigilant.