Massive Anti-Human Trafficking Operation Sees US Marshals Save 45 Missing Kids

While there have certainly been some stories of children going missing that have happy endings, sadly, all too many end in tears.

But in Ohio, 45 missing kids suddenly have a chance at a happy ending of their own after the U.S. Marshals undertook a massive anti-human trafficking operation, the largest in the state's history according to Ohio Attorney General David Yost.

Operation Autumn Hope lived up to its name.

Throughout the month of October, the U.S. Marshals and the Ohio Organized Crime Investigation Commission worked with more than 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government partners, including authorities in West Virginia, to locate and recover missing and exploited children, according to a press release.

On October 26, the U.S. Marshals and Yost announced that Operation Autumn Hope had recovered 45 missing kids, as well as 109 additional human trafficking victims.

A total of 76 cases of missing and exploited children in Ohio were cleared by the operation.

Among those recovered were a 14-year-old girl, rescued in Columbus after being reported missing in Lancaster six hours earlier; a 15-year-old sought in connection with multiple shootings and a homicide; and a 15-year-old girl whose recovery led to other possible victims and a suspected human trafficker in Columbus, the attorney general's office said.

In total, authorities made 179 arrests on a variety of charges.

Among those arrests were 22 individuals seeking sex with a minor and 157 men arrested on charges of soliciting, among many other crimes. Those charged include an attorney, a firefighter, and a motivational speaker, the attorney general's office said.

"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 a press release. "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 have recorded significant successes with anti-human trafficking operations.

"Over the past five years, the USMS has recovered missing children in 75% of the cases it has received," a press release stated. "And of those recovered, 72% were recovered within 7 days. Since 2005, the USMS has recovered more than 2,000 missing children."

"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 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 Autumn Hope came on the heels of other successful anti-human trafficking operations in the Midwest.

In August, another operation in Ohio rescued 25 children ages 13 to 18 over a span of three weeks. And in Indiana, Operation Homecoming rescued eight children from human trafficking in September.

h/t: U.S. Marshals Service, Ohio Attorney General's Office