A monthslong, multi-agency operation has recovered 150 missing and endangered children in Tennessee. The recovery of the rescued children was announced Wednesday during a news conference at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Nashville.
"Operation Volunteer Strong" was a joint mission by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Department of Children's Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service that first started last fall. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provided research and analytical support for the operation.
After months of planning, the teams began pursuing leads on 240 missing children on Jan. 4 in three regions: East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Eight of the missing children from Tennessee were found in other states.
Law enforcement recovered 150 juveniles, ranging in age from 3 to 17. One of the kids was rescued during an active kidnapping investigation, which resulted in the arrest of a suspect.
Five of the recovered children were identified as possible human trafficking victims, which sparked investigations by law enforcement. U.S. Marshal Denny W. King told WTVF that one recovered child had been missing for 460 days.
Two adults with outstanding warrants were apprehended during the investigation.
There are still 90 missing children, and authorities are actively trying to find them.
"This work is transformational, we cannot stop. And there is nothing more worthwhile," Tennessee Department of Children's Service Commissioner Jennifer Nichols said.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) commended the agents involved in Operation Volunteer Strong.
"This operation had miraculous results, and I'm glad these children are reunited with their families. Sadly, this is a reminder there are sick and twisted people out there looking to exploit minors," Burchett said. "I know the great folks who made Operation Volunteer Strong a success will continue their important work and help put a stop to this criminal activity."
"Operation Volunteer Strong is a great example of how working together, we can find missing children and get them the help they need to move forward," said John Clark, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "We're thrilled to see so many missing children recovered in Tennessee, and we thank all the agencies involved for their dedication to child protection."
David Jolley, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, released a statement.
"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," Jolley said. "We will use every resource at our disposal to help find these missing children."
"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."
Numerous operations have been successful recently in rescuing endangered children and arresting suspected sex traffickers.
Last month, Operation Broken Hearts resulted in 37 people being arrested in the Phoenix area for alleged child sex crimes and human trafficking.
During National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, "Operation Reclaim & Rebuild" resulted in the apprehension of 64 people for alleged sex crimes in Riverside, California.
"Operation Lost Angels," a multi-agency human trafficking investigation led by the FBI in January, ended in the rescue of 33 missing children in California.
In November, Marshals recovered 27 missing children in Virginia during "Operation Find Our Children."
In October, Marshals announced the recovery of 45 endangered children as well as the arrests of 178 suspects in Ohio and West Virginia during "Operation Autumn Hope."
On Oct. 1, the U.S. Marshals Service located 11 children in New Orleans, two of whom were said to be in "extreme danger."
On Sept. 21, 35 missing children were recovered in Ohio by the U.S. Marshals during "Operation Safety Net."
On Sept. 4, Marshals announced that eight "highly endangered" missing children were rescued during "Operation Homecoming" in Indiana.
On Aug. 27, "Operation Not Forgotten" led to the discovery of 39 missing children in Florida and Georgia. Law enforcement stated 15 of the missing kids were victims of sex trafficking.