Nearly 40 children are now safe and sound after a two-week operation involving state and federal authorities in Georgia.
The U.S. Marshals Service, with help from state police and other local agencies, rescued 26 missing children and ensured the safe location of 13 others as part of “Operation Not Forgotten,” the agency announced Thursday.
The initiative was launched in early August in Atlanta and Macon.
“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,” authorities said. “Other children were located at the request of law enforcement to ensure their well-being.”
The sweeping operation, which spanned 20 metro-Atlanta counties, also led to the arrests of nine suspects. Authorities were able to clear 26 warrants and filed additional charges for alleged crimes including sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, and drugs and weapons violations, according to the feds.
The ages of those rescued ranged from just three to 17 years old, authorities said at a news conference announcing the outcome of the operation. One child had been missing for almost two years.
“Our children are not for sale, and they’re not ever forgotten,” said U.S. Marshals Director Donald Washington.
The U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit partnered with the agency’s Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Office of the Attorney General, the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services and others on the initiative.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the goal of the operation was to locate missing and endangered children across Georgia.
“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars,” Darby Kirby, chief of the agency’s Missing Child Unit, said in a statement. “But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child. 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.”
In a statement, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp commended law enforcement for their work in the bust.
.@GAFirstLady and I applaud the work of law enforcement in “Operation Not Forgotten.” We’ll continue to work around the clock to bring an end to human trafficking and ensure the perpetrators of this evil industry know they have no place in our state. https://t.co/z0pSopVRww
— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) August 27, 2020