First Responders

50 Missing Children, Runaway Youth Located Through Operation Autumn Hope, Operation Shine the Light

October 28, 2020Joshua Skovlund

ST. LOUIS – Operation Triple Beam (OTB) netted 162 arrests, clearing 186 arrest warrants. The United States Marshals Service, in partnership with the United States Attorney’s Office, St. Louis County Police Department, North County Police Cooperative, and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, conducted the four month Operation from June to September. The operation was a gang and violent crime reduction tool using targeted intelligence gathering, and fugitive investigation and apprehension. OTB St. Louis included the arrest of 69 gang members, 16 murder-related arrests, as well as the seizure of 40 firearms, 4.6 kilograms of narcotics, over $24,000 in United States Currency, and 3 seized vehicles. OTB provides communities with immediate relief from violent, gang-related crime; and targets fugitives who commit violent crime and those who provide them safe harbor. Since DOJ reinvigorated Project Safe Neighborhoods in 2017, US Marshals have launched 33 OTB collaborations of local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies in some of the nation’s most violence-plagued communities, resulting in more than 6,000 arrests; 1,200 firearms confiscations; and the seizure of $1.8 million US currency. Photo By: Shane McCoy / US Marshals

The US Marshals Service along with several other local, state, and federal agencies have recovered a combined total of 50 children in Ohio, Hawaii, and West Virginia. 

The results of Operation Autumn Hope, conducted in Ohio, and Operation Shine the Light, conducted in Hawaii, were announced Monday in separate press releases from the Marshals Service and Hawaii’s Department of the Attorney General.

Operation Autumn Hope was conducted throughout October by the marshals offices in southern Ohio and southern West Virginia in coordination with the Ohio attorney general’s office and the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. The multiagency task force recovered 45 missing children and located an additional 20 children to verify their well-being, per requests of local law enforcement. There were 179 arrests made for suspected human trafficking, among other charges. 

One of the recoveries involved a 15-year-old male who is suspected of being involved in multiple shootings and a homicide. According to the Marshals Service press release, the teen had two warrants for his arrest; he was located, and marshals seized a loaded firearm during the search. 

“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter C. Tobin, US marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, in the press release. “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.”

Operation Shine the Light took place Friday through Sunday in Honolulu and was executed by a joint task force made up of the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General, the Hawaii Department of Human Services, the US Marshals Service, the FBI, the US Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, the Honolulu Police Department, the Susannah Wesley Community Center, Hale Kipa, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the National Child Protection Task Force.

Operation planning starts with gathering intelligence on potential perpetrators before sending in teams to arrest those responsible for trafficking children. Photo courtesy of the USMS.

Five children were located over the weekend, all ages 16 to 17. 

With virtual schooling and quarantines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been spending more time online. According to the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General, the pandemic has exacerbated child trafficking and the dangers presented by sex traffickers and online predators — both in person and online.  

“It is an undeniable and unfortunate reality that this pandemic has highlighted the increased risk of exploitation for our most vulnerable youth. It takes collaborative strategy, swift action, and an utmost care for these youth in order to respond to their needs,” said Hawaii Department of Human Services Director Cathy Betts in the press release. 

In addition to the added hazards from the pandemic, the high cost of living in areas like Hawaii can lead to runaway children being more vulnerable to child trafficking and sexual predators.

USMS anti child trafficking
One of the missing children recovered during Operation Not Forgotten. Photo by Shane T. McCoy/US Marshals.

“Runaway youth are at a high risk of [child trafficking], especially in a high cost of living area such as Hawaii. It’s difficult for them to afford basic needs such as food and shelter. Traffickers take advantage of this fact, exploiting vulnerable young people by forcing them to exchange sex for a place to stay or something to eat,” said Lucia Cabral-DeArmas, acting special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations Honolulu field office, in the press release.

After the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 became law, the Marshals Service established its Missing Child Unit. To date, 75% of the cases investigated have resulted in the recovery of missing children, and 72% of those recovered were found within seven days after the marshals received the case. The US Marshals Service has recovered more than 2,000 missing children since 2005. 

The US Marshals Service did not respond to requests for further information at the time of publication.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated after a response from the Hawaii Department of Human Services to reflect the fact that Operation Shine the Light took place in Honolulu, with the lead agencies being the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General and the Hawaii Department of Human Services.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.

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