TENNESSEE, USA — After a months-long operation, the United States Marshals Service, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recovered 150 missing children across the state.
During a press conference Wednesday morning, authorities revealed the results of "Operation Volunteer Strong".
According to Shelly Smitherman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at TBI, the planning stage of the operation started in fall 2020 and TBI Intelligence Analysts were able to compile files for 240 missing children across the state. The operation efforts started on January 4.
150 of the 240 missing children recovered range in age from 3 to 17-years-old, Smitherman said.
A press release states that in East Tennessee, authorities identified 86 missing children. 56 were recovered and five of them are in other states. Authorities located 27 of them in the weeks leading up to the operation and three after the conclusion.
Three of the recovered juveniles were identified by law enforcement as potential human trafficking victims. TBI is investigating this case.
“The U.S. Marshals are committed to assisting state and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children to help prevent their falling victim to crimes of violence and exploitation,” said David Jolley, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “We will use every resource at our disposal to help find these missing children.”
In Middle Tennessee, authorities recovered 42 of 72 missing children. Of the 42 recovered, authorities located 29 in the weeks leading up to the operation and 13 during the operation.
Marshal Denny King of the Middle District of Tennessee said that one of the recovered children was identified as a potential human trafficking victim. This case still under investigation.
"I can't imagine being a parent and not knowing where my child is," said King. Or can you imagine being that child, maybe feeling forgotten? I can't imagine those circumstances."
King also mentioned that another child went missing for 460 days.
In West Tennessee, authorities identified 82 missing children. 52 of them were recovered and three of them are in other states.
Of the 52 recovered, authorities located 33 of them in the weeks leading up to the operation, 18 during the operation, and one after the conclusion.
During the search, authorities located two adults with outstanding warrants.
Marshal Tyreece Miller of the Western District of Tennessee said that one of the recovered children was also identified as a potential human trafficking victim. The case is being investigated by law enforcement in Mississippi and the FBI.
Miller said that Marshals safely recovered a child during an active kidnapping investigation in Memphis, resulting in the arrest of the suspect on multiple charges.
"We are grateful to be part of this effort," said Miller. But our work is not done. Our commitment to finding our missing children will not end."
Commissioner Jennifer Nichols of the Department of Children's Services said that 93 of the children recovered are DCS children and most of them are girls.
"The works is transformational," said Nichols. We cannot stop. And there is nothing more worthwhile."
TBI Director David Rausch encourages the community to stay vigilant and to take the time to look at missing children's bulletins.
"'That guilt shall not escape, nor innocence suffer' is more than a motto," said TBI Director David Rausch said. 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."
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), based in Alexandria, Virginia, provided research and analytical support during the operation.
TBI said that most of the children recovered during the operation will receive services through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which may include placements in foster homes, group homes, or other specialized care.