After a month-long investigation involving more than 50 agencies, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and Ohio state and local agencies, officers rescued 109 trafficking victims in total.
“Across southern Ohio, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, including 45 by physical recovery by the U.S. Marshal’s Service,” the Ohio AG stated.
The victims were referred to social services, and multiple arrests were made, including a man who was holding two children in West Virginia.
Additionally, 20 children were located as authorities checked on their well-being.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, in a press release. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”
At one recovery site, authorities reportedly recovered a 15-year-old girl from Cleveland whom they described as “high-risk.” The girl was linked to suspected human trafficking.
A loaded gun was found at another of the recovery sites, along with a 15-year-old boy, who was suspected of multiple shootings and a murder and had two warrants out for his arrest.
Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, said in a statement, “These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks. This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”
Operation Autumn Hope held four priorities, according to the AG’s office: “Rescuing victims of human trafficking and referring them to social services, recovering missing and exploited children, apprehending those seeking to have sex with a minor [and] arresting male johns seeking to buy sex.”
The recovery of these missing children comes on the tail of several recent human trafficking busts throughout the country, including the arrest of 232 suspects in Oklahoma, 35 missing children rescued in Cuyahoga County, and 39 children recovered in Georgia earlier this year.
“Over the past five years, the USMS has recovered missing children in 75 percent of the cases it has received,” according to the Marshals Service. “And of those recovered, 72 percent were recovered within 7 days. Since 2005, the USMS has recovered more than 2,000 missing children.”
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