39 missing children rescued in Georgia sex trafficking bust

Southeast

The U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit, in conjunction with other state agencies during “Operation Not Forgotten” resulted in the rescue of 26 children, the safe location of 13 children and the arrest of nine criminal associates. (Courtesy: U.S. Marshals Service)

ATLANTA (NewsNation) — Nearly 40 missing or endangered children have been rescued by federal and state agents in Georgia, according to authorities.

In “Operation Not Forgotten” 13 missing children, and an additional 26 endangered children, were found and rescued. The two-week operation occurred in Atlanta and Macon during the month of August, The U.S. Marshals Service announced Thursday.

“The message to missing children and their families is that we will never stop looking for you,” said Director of the Marshals Service Donald Washington.

The missing children were considered to be “some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases” based on indications of high-risk factors such as victimization of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and medical or mental health conditions.

Authorities arrested nine people, many of whom had multiple arrest warrants for charges including sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, custodial interference, as well as registered sex offender violations, drugs and weapons possession. The suspects were not identified.

After several months of planning, the U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit worked with the agency’s Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and several state and local agencies to carry out the operation.

“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child,” said Darby Kirby, Chief of the U.S. Marshals’ Missing Child Unit. “It’s hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need.”

Since 2019, the U.S. Marshals Service has helped recover 295 missing children based on assistance requests from law enforcement and has contributed to nearly 75% of recovery cases received. Since its partnership with NCMEC began in 2005, the agency has recovered more than 1,800 missing children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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