After a two-week hunt, over three dozen children have been rescued from a sex trafficking ring in Georgia by federal and state law enforcement authorities.
For over two weeks, the US Marshals Fugitive Hunters and U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit, as well as other state authorities including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, scoured the state of Georgia, in what was dubbed “Operation Not Forgotten” which stretched across 20 counties around metro Atlanta, WSB-TV Atlanta and Fox10 Phoenix reported.
Authorities were concerned that some of the children were already victims of sex trafficking, while other children were potential victims.
The operation stretched across 20 Georgia counties and authorities said children were found in Gwinnett, Fulton, Clayton, and Forsyth counties, as well as other places.
On Thursday, The US Marshals Service announced that it had rescued 39 children from all over Georgia. The children ranged in age from 17 to only 3-years-old, according to investigators.
The US marshals service said it had confirmed that 15 of the children had been victims of sex trafficking. Out of the 39 children rescued, 26 were directly rescued, while 13 were safely located.
“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,” according to a statement by authorities.
“Other children were located at the request of law enforcement to ensure their well-being.”
According to law enforcement, nine adults have been arrested in the rescue operation including: Zachary Bailey; Stanson Causey (probation violation charges); Trevontae Shareef (interference with custody and willful obstruction of law enforcement); and Kirk Water (possession of a firearm by a convicted felon).
There are over 420,000 children currently missing in the United States, and of those, roughly 91 percent are runways believed to be in danger, according to the Marshals Service.
In 2015, new legislation was signed called “The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.” The law the US marshals service the authority to assist law enforcement agencies recover missing children. As a result, the U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit was established in 2016.
“There are times when we rescue children that don’t want to be rescued,” Kirby said, “but when you understand the background and where they’ve come from – growing up in broken homes – you really understand that it’s heroic work.”
“We will never stop looking for you. That’s [the] message,” said Donald Washington, Director of the US Marshals Service. “There is no more meaningful work that law enforcement does than rescuing children. Our children are not for sale and they are not ever forgotten.”
“We’re really good and what we do,” said Darby Kirby, chief inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit. “You know, they’ve called us man hunters. Well, we’re not just man hunters anymore – we also help save and rescue children as well.”