A Michigan sheriff’s office task force located seven missing children, including a 16-year-old who was described as being locked inside a barn.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson said in a news conference that the Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team, or GHOST, led an investigation that resulted in the arrests of 17 people. They also found seven children who were “lost in the cracks,” Swanson added.
They set up six human trafficking stings in about five months, Swanson noted. Agents posed as children between the ages of 13 and 15 on social media sites. People who arrived at locations with the expectation to abduct or assault those children were arrested instead, he said, reported MLive.
In one instance, officials located a 16-year-old in a barn surrounded by barbed wire. The sheriff added that it appears the girl was being held by human traffickers.
“The fear in her eyes was real,” he said at the conference.
Among the suspects who were arrested was a firefighter who was previously a police officer for several agencies. His name was not disclosed but was charged with three felonies.
Over the course of the operation, Swanson said that law enforcement made contact with about 2,000 people who were seeking vulnerable teenagers.
“The ones that actually come (to meet the child), those are ones that are going to really harm,” he said. “These are people from all walks of life,” he added of the suspects now under arrest.
These suspects face multiple charges including using a computer to commit a crime, accosting a child for immoral purposes, and possession of child sexual abuse material. Some of the felonies can lead to 20-year prison terms.
“National stats confirm that a pedophile or predator taken off the street can save the life of 25 future victims,” said Swanson, as reported by WNEM-TV. “I don’t want to take police reports of people that have already been assaulted,” said Swanson. “I want to find the people before they hurt the victims.”