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More than 150 missing children found in North Carolina operation, some victims of human trafficking

More than 150 missing children were rescued in North Carolina, and some were victims of human trafficking. Over 130 missing and runaway juveniles were recovered with the assistance of the United States marshals in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area after a monthslong investigation.

Another 27 “critically missing juveniles” were located during “Operation Carolina Homecoming,” a joint effort between Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and federal agents. Between April 26 and May 7, collaborative teams of detectives from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Missing Person Unit, U.S. Marshal Service deputies, and the Department of Public Safety Missing Persons Unit conducted extensive searches to recover “especially difficult to find juveniles.” Previous efforts to locate the missing children had been unsuccessful, the city of Charlotte acknowledged in a news release.

Several of the minors had been engaged in high-risk activities such as prostitution and involvement in illegal drugs. CMPD said the minors were mostly between the ages of 14 to 18.

Some of the missing children were victims of human trafficking. CMPD officials are investigating the cases of child trafficking, and will arrest anyone who committed crimes involving the endangered children.

“Kids don’t need to be living alone in hotels, kids don’t need to be living alone with an older partner,” CMPD Captain Joel McNelly said, according to WCNC-TV. “People who do this are looking for people vulnerable people who have bad home lives and are looking for something else — people easily manipulated.”

McNelly said there were some minors who were “actively taking measures to avoid being recovered,” adding, “They’re self-sustaining, they’re trying to make money, support themselves.”

“These kids come from traumatic backgrounds, potentially abusive households, drug and alcohol addiction, incarcerated parents,” said McNelly, who is part of the CMPD’s Violent Crimes Division. “We’re proud of what we were able to do for the community through this.”

The recovered minors were provided with resources from Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center, the North Carolina ISAAC Fusion Center, and Mecklenburg County Child Protective Services.

“Even if a kid goes out there with good intentions that they’re going to stay on the straight and narrow, it doesn’t take very long to get cold and hungry and succumb to the pressure of somebody who knows just how to time their effort into manipulate you into activity you maybe otherwise wouldn’t have wanted to be apart of,” said Dr. Stacy Reynolds with Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital.

In March, there were 150 missing and endangered children recovered in Tennessee during “Operation Volunteer Strong,” a joint mission by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Department of Children’s Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

In February, “Operation Broken Hearts” resulted in 37 people being arrested in the Phoenix area for alleged child sex crimes and human trafficking.

In January, “Operation Reclaim & Rebuild” ended in the apprehension of 64 suspects for alleged sex crimes in Riverside, California.

Also in January, which is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a multi-agency human trafficking investigation led by the FBI known as “Operation Lost Angels” resulted in the rescue of 33 missing children in California.

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