The United States Marshals Service posted a press release yesterday announcing the results of Operation Volunteer Strong which spanned a number of months and was a collaborative effort of not only the U.S. Marshals, but also the Tennessee Burau of Investigation and Department of Children's Services.
Beginning in fall of 2020 these three agencies, with the assistance of the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, gathered information and compiled leads for a total of 240 missing children throughout the state.
Beginning on January 4, 2021, officers took those leads to the streets in an effort to find the children.
Between January 4 and 15, officers were focusing their efforts in eastern Tennessee where they managed to recover 56 of the 86 children they had identified. Five of the children recovered were actually located in other states.
Three of the chidden recovered during this portion of the recovery effort have been identified a potential victims of human trafficking. The investigation into this aspect remains ongoing.
January 25 through February 5, investigators focused their efforts in the middle of Tennessee where they were looking for 72 children. Of those, 42 were recovered. One of those recovered from this region has been identified as a potential victim of human trafficking and the investigation is ongoing.
During February 8 -12 and February 22-26, investigators focused on the western portion of Tennessee where they were looking for 82 children. In total, 52 were recovered with three of those being located in other states.
One of the children recovered in this region has been identified as a human trafficking victim and the investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a local Mississippi law enforcement agency is still active.
Of note during the operation in this region is the fact that agents were able to safely recover a child during an active kidnapping investigation. The suspect has been arrested.
In total, 150 children between the ages of 3 and 17 of the 240 they were seeking have been recovered. Of those recovered, 93 were identified as DCS children, and most were girls.
“We can’t give up. We need the public, the media, and all law enforcement to not give up,” said Denny King, U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Tennessee. “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.”
“Many people don’t realize this, but hundreds of children go missing in our state every month,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “From runaways that may leave their home out of desperation or despair, to those entangled in a custody battle, every single one of them deserves a fighting chance, and that’s why they also deserve our best work to help them.”
"'That guilt shall not escape, nor innocence suffer' is more than a motto," Rausch said according to WFMY. "It reminds us every day of what really matters. In this operation, it was the innocence of children who may need help or love, a new start, or just someone safe to talk to."
"This work is transformational," Jennifer Nichols, Tennessee DCS Commissioner stated at a press conference. "We cannot stop. And there is nothing more worthwhile."
“I hope this operation changes the course for 150 young lives and leads them to the path of opportunities every child deserves,” WBTV quoted Tyreece Miller, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Tennessee as saying. “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.”
“This operation had miraculous results, and I’m glad these children are reunited with their families. Sadly, this is a reminder there are sick and twisted people out there looking to exploit minors,” Representative Tim Burchett said. “I know the great folks who made Operation Volunteer Strong a success will continue their important work and help put a stop to this criminal activity.”