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The U.S. Marshals Service on Wednesday said the agency recovered 225 missing children as young as six months old — who were victims of child sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation and abuse — during a 10-week national operation.
Federal authorities partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and state and local agencies in 16 federal districts across the U.S. in “Operation We Will Find You,” which resulted in the recovery of 169 children and the safe location of 56 children who went missing as runaways or were abducted by noncustodial parents.
“These missing children were considered some of the most challenging recovery cases in the area, 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,” officials said in a news release.
Data released by the agency shows that 86% of the children were runaways, 9% were family abductions, and 5% were considered otherwise missing.
According to the agency, federal authorities referred 28 cases related to drug and weapons possession, sex trafficking, and failing to register as a sex offender.
“Operation We Will Find You is a great example of how the U.S. Marshals Service continues to prioritize child protection,” Michelle DeLaune, NCMEC president & CEO.
During the operation, authorities found 42 children outside the city where they went missing, and ten children were found outside of the United States in Mexico.
Over 20 cases originated from the Eastern District of Washington. Authorities said 16 of those children were recovered and returned to their families.
“Reuniting missing children with loved ones and connecting them with appropriate services is a mission in which the United States Marshals Service takes great pride,” said U.S. Marshal Craig Thayer.
During the operation, authorities also located and arrested a Top 15 Most Wanted Couple that had fled to Mexico from Washington with their five children, who they had taken into hiding.
Since 2015 after lawmakers passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which increased the U.S. Marshals Service to assist law enforcement agencies in recovering endangered missing children regardless of whether a fugitive or sex offender was involved, federal authorities and NCMEC have located over 3,100 missing children.
“The U.S. Marshals Service is fully committed to the important mission of protecting the American people, especially our most vulnerable population – our children,” Ronald Davis, director of the Marshals Service, said in a news release.