Dozens of missing children in Ohio are now safe, thanks to the U.S. Marshals Service and several other state law enforcement agencies in what officials say is the largest anti-human trafficking effort in state history.
Deputies helped find 45 missing children as part of the multi-agency operation Autumn Hope, officials announced Monday. The statewide effort also led to 179 arrests this month.
U.S. Marshals worked alongside the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force for the effort, which focused on “human trafficking and the location and recovery of missing and exploited children,” according to a news release. Deputies also assisted in finding 20 additional children at the request of local police to ensure their safety.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, said in a statement. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”
Among those rescued was a 15-year-old girl from Cleveland who led deputies to other possible victims linked to a human trafficking suspect in Columbus, officials said.
A tip to Marshals in West Virginia also resulted in the rescue of two children during a traffic stop by state troopers in Jackson County. Deputies were urged to be on the lookout for an adult male driver, who was later arrested and charged with removal or concealment of a minor child, authorities said.
A 14-year-old girl who fled Lancaster in the middle of the night was found within six hours of local authorities reporting her missing, according to U.S. Marshals.
In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost lauded the 50-plus police agencies who assisted in operation Autumn Hope, including the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the Columbus PACT Unit and Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force, which worked together to rescue 109 sex trafficking survivors across the state.
Authorities in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Lucas counties also made 157 arrests for solicitation and other crimes.
“The success of operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said in the statement. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”
The U.S. Marshals Service has carried out similar rescue operations across the country.
A two-month effort in New Orleans led to the rescue of 11 missing children, and deputies were successful in locating 26 kids — one as young as 3 — as part of a sweeping sex trafficking sting in Georgia this year, McClatchy News previously reported.