Nearly 40 missing children have been rescued in a huge Georgia sex trafficking bust.
“Operation Not Forgotten” is the investigation that has now led to dozens of children being returned home after being a part of a sex trafficking ring that spanned across 20 counties around the greater Atlanta area.
The probe went on for two weeks straight, and U.S. Marshalls Fugitive Hunters went around the north and middle of Georgia looking for missing and exploited children. Twenty-six children were recovered, and another 13 missing children were found.
U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said authorities are worried that these victims were already subjected to sex trafficking prior to being forced into the ring. Children were found in Gwinnett, Fulton, Clayton, and Forsyth counties, among other places; nine suspects were arrested and are now detained. Social workers are focusing on helping the children recover from the traumatic and life-changing situation, WSB-TV reports. “One missing child is worth thousands, in my mind, of fugitives that we go out and get,” Washington said.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said authorities will measure their success on “how many lives that we have saved and that will have a new and fresh start,” the outlet reports. Other cities across the country are currently operating their own investigations to recover children.
The sex traffickers that were arrested include Moradeyo Amos Bandele, Trayon Moore, James Garcia, Faye Smith, Sally Garcia, Zachary Bailey, Stanson Causey, Kirk Waters, and Trevonte Shareef. They were charged with various crimes, including sex trafficking, registered sex offender violations, illegal drugs, weapons possession, custodial interference, and parental kidnapping.
“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 Missing Child Unit Chief Darby Kirby in a statement, per Newsweek. “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.” According to the outlet, Marshals have rescued more than 1,800 children since partnering with NCMEC in 2005.
During a press conference, Marshals Service Director Donald Washington said,” This is a priority of the United States Marshals Service. We are responsible for bringing to justice about 100,000 fugitives every year… This operation of going and rescuing children, in my view, is far, far more important. The numbers are not nearly 100,000 when we talk about missing children that we are able to recover. But one missing child is worth thousands, in my mind, of fugitives that we go out and get.”