NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A coordinated effort led to the recovery of 150 missing children across Tennessee, the state’s Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday.
Operation Volunteer Strong launched Jan. 4 after 240 missing children were identified in the state. A series of “two-week blitzes” led to the recovery of 150 of those children, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a news release.
At least five of the children were potential victims of human trafficking, according to the release. Cases are still open for each of them. One child was rescued during a kidnapping investigation, resulting in the arrest of a suspect.
Members of the operation spoke during a news briefing Wednesday at the TBI headquarters in Nashville.
“I hope this operation changes the course for 150 young lives and leads them to the path of opportunities every child deserves,” said Tyreece Miller, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Tennessee. “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.”
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The operation was a joint effort with the TBI, U.S. Marshals Service and Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provided research and analytical support during the operation.
“Operation Volunteer Strong is a great example of how working together, we can find missing children and get them the help they need to move forward,” said John Clark, NCMEC’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We’re thrilled to see so many missing children recovered in Tennessee, and we thank all the agencies involved for their dedication to child protection.”
Similar operations in Ohio, Georgia, Indiana and other states succeeded in taking more than 440 children “out of harm’s way” in 2020, Virginia’s Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a news release following the recovery of 27 children in November.
The U.S. Marshals in October announced the recovery of 45 missing children, resulting in 179 arrests, during Operation Autumn Hope across Ohio. It was the second such mission in the Buckeye State, after Operation Safety Net, which in August led to the discovery of 25 missing children in less than three weeks.
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Also in 2020, Operation Not Forgotten in Georgia led to the recovery of 39 children in August and Operation Homecoming in September found eight missing children in Indiana.
While the formal Tennessee operation has concluded, efforts to find the remaining 90 missing children identified continue, TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine said.
Most of the children recovered will receive support from the state’s DCS, including possible placement into foster homes, group homes or other specialized care, the release said.
Hundreds of children go missing every month in Tennessee, whether as the result of runaway situations, custody battles, kidnappings or other circumstances, said TBI Director David Rausch.
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“Every single one of them deserves a fighting chance, and that’s why they also deserve our best work to help them,” Rausch said.
Middle District Tennessee U.S. Marshal Denny King echoed that sentiment.
“We can’t give up. We need the public, the media and all law enforcement to not give up,” King said. “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.”
Follow Rachel Wegner on Twitter @rachelannwegner.
Contributing: Steve Kiggins and Jordan Culver, USA TODAY