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US Marshals recover 45 missing children, arrest 179 in human trafficking sting 'Operation Autumn Hope'

The mission is believed to be the largest anti-human trafficking operation in Ohio's history

Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals

U.S. Marshals, with the help of state and local agencies, rescued 45 missing and endangered children in Ohio and West Virginia during "Operation Autumn Hope."

The Central Ohio Human Trafficking Trask Force, Columbus PACT Unit, and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force also recovered 109 victims, who were referred to social services.

The campaign to locate and recover victims of human trafficking involved over 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government partners coordinated across the state of Ohio. The mission is believed to be the "largest anti-human trafficking operation" in Ohio's history.

Operation Autumn Hope resulted in 179 arrests made by the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, many of which were outstanding warrants. There were 22 people who were arrested for allegedly seeking to have sex with a minor.

One of the missing children rescued is a 15-year-old girl from Cleveland who was linked to "other possible victims to an individual in Columbus suspected of human trafficking," according to a U.S. Marshals news release.

United States Marshals Service officers from Southern Ohio and Southern West Virginia worked on the operation. U.S. Marshal Michael Baylous said of the13 missing kids recovered by the Cops United Felony Fugitive Enforcement Division; three of the children were missing from San Bernardino, California, following a parental dispute and found in West Virginia.

The operation was supported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"These predators shamelessly target the most innocent and defenseless members of our community," Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said. "Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children."

"These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks," said Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. "This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services."

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) released a news release about the human trafficking sting.

"The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil," Yost said. "Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don't buy sex in Ohio!"

Earlier this month, U.S. Marshals rescued 11 children in New Orleans, two of which were in "extreme danger."

On Sept. 21, U.S. Marshals announced that they had rescued 35 missing children during "Operation Safety Net" in Ohio.

On Sept. 17, U.S. Marshals Service completed "Operation Triple Beam," a 60-day mission to decrease violent gang crime in Oklahoma City. U.S. Marshals made 262 arrests, seized illegal firearms and narcotics, plus rescued five missing children,

On Sept. 4, the U.S. Marshals Service said that they rescued eight "highly endangered" missing children in Indiana during "Operation Homecoming."

On Aug. 27, U.S. Marshals located 39 missing children in Georgia and Florida during "Operation Not Forgotten." Authorities said the children were between the ages of 3 to 17. Of the 39 endangered children, 15 were victims of sex trafficking.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement engaged in a multi-agency operation last month that resulted in the arrest of five suspected child sexual predators. "Operation Home Alone 2" was able to successfully "target sexual predators who attempted to lure underage children with the intent of engaging in sexual activity."

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