A joint operation by law enforcement that started months ago have recovered 150 children who had gone missing in Tennessee.
The U.S. Marshals Service, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS), and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) announced on Wednesday that their effort to identify and locate missing children, named “Operation Volunteer Strong,” recovered 150 out of the 240 missing children identified across the state.
Shelly Smitherman, the TBI’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge, said at a press conference that the recovered children were from 3 to 17 years old. Commissioner Jennifer Nichols with Tennessee’s DCS said that 93 of the 150 were DCS children, most of whom were girls.
“Many people don’t realize this but hundreds of children go missing in our state every month,” TBI Director David Rausch said in a statement. “From runaways that may leave their home out of desperation or despair, to those entangled in a custody battle, every single one of them deserves a fighting chance, and that’s why they also deserve our best work to help them.”
The operation was launched on Jan. 4 after months of planning that started in the fall of 2020. Law enforcement teams conducted “two-week blitzes in each of Tennessee’s three grand regions,” according to a news release from the TBI.
“I hope this operation changes the course for 150 young lives and leads them to the path of opportunities every child deserves,” Tyreece Miller, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Tennessee, said in a statement. “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.”
According to the TBI, most of the 150 children recovered will receive services from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which might mean they are placed in foster homes or group homes, or receive other specialized care.
Authorities are still working to find the other 90 missing children.
“We can’t give up. We need the public, the media, and all law enforcement to not give up,” Denny King, U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Tennessee, said in a statement. “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.”
“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,” David Jolley, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said in a statement. “We will use every resource at our disposal to help find these missing children.”
In East Tennessee, from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15, authorities recovered 56 missing children out of 86 missing children identified. Five of those recovered were found in other states. Law enforcement said that three of the children recovered are potentially victims of human trafficking, which has resulted in a still-active investigation by the TBI.
In Middle Tennessee, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, authorities recovered 42 missing children out of 72 missing children identified. One child was identified as a potential human trafficking victim, which resulted in a TBI investigation still underway.
In West Tennesse, from Feb. 8-12 and Feb. 22-26, authorities recovered 52 out of the 82 identified missing children. Three of those recovered were found in other states. During the search, two adults were found with outstanding warrants. One of the recovered children was identified as a human trafficking victim, which led to a still-active investigation by the FBI and a Mississippi local law enforcement agency, the agencies announced.