Tennessee state and federal law enforcement agencies collaborated to recover 150 missing children over a month of searching, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) said.
The TBI announced the information in a joint news hearing in Nashville, stating that agencies, including TBI, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and the U.S. Marshals Service, acted together to rescue the children under “Operation Volunteer Strong.”
According to a report in USA Today, planning for the operation began last fall, when 240 children were reported as missing across the state. On January 4, the operation commenced with “two-week blitzes” across each region, helped additionally by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which provided research and analytical support during the operation.
Ultimately, the coalition’s efforts led to the recovery of 150 children ranging from 3 to 17 years old.
The press release stated that at least five of the missing children were potential victims of human trafficking, and their cases remain open. One case involving a kidnapped child resulted in the arrest of a suspect.
Denny King, U.S. marshal for the Middle District of Tennessee, said, “We can’t give up. We need the public, the media and all law enforcement to not give up. 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.”
Although Operation Volunteer Strong has formally ended, efforts to find the remaining 90 children will continue, according to TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine.
Similar rescue missions are underway in several other states, such as Indiana, Georgia, Ohio and Virginia. In total, efforts have led to the recovery of 440 children across the nation.
Virginia law enforcement recovered 27 children, while Operation Autumn Hope and Operation Safety Net in Ohio located 45 and 25 children, respectively, including 179 arrests of perpetrators.
Meanwhile, Operation Not Forgotten in Georgia successfully recovered 39 children in August, and Indiana’s Operation Homecoming led to the rescue of eight children in September.
Each state’s DCS will provide a variety of support for the children, including placing them in foster homes, group homes or other specialized care settings to set them on the right path.
TBI Director David Rausch said that every month, hundreds of children go missing in Tennessee for a variety of reasons, whether it’s due to kidnapping, runaway situations or custody battles.
Tyreece Miller, the U.S. marshal of the Western District of Tennessee, offered some parting words of hope and warning. “I hope this operation changes the course for 150 young lives and leads them to the path of opportunities every child deserves. 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.”