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Tennessee task force recovers 150 missing children

The working group recovered the children – some of whom are potential victims of human trafficking – in three sweeps across the state.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shelly Smitherman said everything from children leaving home in difficult situations, some found with non-parent members to children “dealing with abuse or exploitation.”

A “number of arrests” were made during the operation, called “Operation Volunteer Strong,” said the U.S. Marshal of Tennessee’s western district Tyreece Miller without going into detail about how many people were arrested.

Two people had active warrants, and another person, a suspected kidnapper, was arrested, according to a TBI press release.

Denny King, the U.S. Marshal of the Middle District of Tennessee, said he could not imagine being a parent and having a missing child,

“We can not give up,” King said. “We need the public, we need the media, we need our law enforcement partners and the other child welfare departments not to abandon these children.

“We do not know what damage may have been done, but we do know that those we have recovered during this operation are in a safe environment today.”

King noted that a child in his district had been missing for 460 days and was located following a local law enforcement tip.

Four children were potential victims of human trafficking, TBI said in its press release. One-fifth were identified as “a victim of human trafficking, resulting in a still active investigation conducted by a local law enforcement agency in the Mississippi and the FBI.”

Smitherman explained that TBI analysts collected intelligence files in the fall of 240 children that they hoped could be found.

She said TBI, U.S. Marshals and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) tracked down leads and in January sent teams out for surge operations in each of Tennessee’s three districts. Eight children were found in other states. Operations began Jan. 4 and ended Feb. 26, TBI said in its press release.

Of the 150 children, 93 were DCS children, most of whom were girls, DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols said.

“The large number, 150, is commendable, but even more exciting is the reality behind each of the 150 numbers that are a child or youth whose life and future can be changed forever,” Nichols said. “The work is transformative. We can not stop and there is nothing more worthwhile.”

Children who were in the DCS system before they disappeared will return to the agency’s care, which will also provide support as counseling services to the other children.

Work to find the remaining 90 missing children is ongoing, officials said.

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