The U.S Marshals Service Missing Child Unit has rescued 26 children and located 13 children who are safe in Georgia through “Operation Not Forgotten,” according to the Department of Justice in a statement published 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 U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit worked alongside the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Georgia state and local officials to carry out the two-week operation in August in Atlanta and Macon, according to the statement.
Nine individuals were arrested and police have filed charges against the arrested individuals for alleged crimes including sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, registered sex offender violations, drugs and weapons possession and custodial interference, per the report. (RELATED: 9 Arrested In Case Involving Mothers Selling Children Into Sex-Trafficking Ring In Exchange For Drugs)
“These missing children were considered to be some of the most at-risk and 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,” the statement said.
“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 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.”
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr also shared his joy at finding the kids in a video posted on Twitter.
I cannot say enough about Operation Not Forgotten and the men and women behind it.
— GA AG Chris Carr (@Georgia_AG) August 27, 2020
The mission took several months of planning, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
In 2019, 26,300 kids were reported as runaways, with one in six likely victims of child sex trafficking, according to the NCMEC.