More than 150 missing children have been found in North Carolina. Some of these youngsters have been victims of human trafficking or were involved in other high-risk activities, authorities said.
This rescue mission is part of a joint effort between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police (CMD), and federal agents called Operation Carolina Homecoming.
Operation Carolina Homecoming is a months-long concerted project aimed at recovering missing and runaway juveniles in the Charlotte area where prior attempts to find them have failed, according to Breaking 911.
During the weekly press conference, on Wednesday, May 19, CMPD revealed that some of the rescued juveniles were involved in drug activity, prostitution, or were victims of human trafficking.
“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.
Before the operation began, more than 130 children were retrieved, CMPD noted. Then afterwards between April 26 and May 7, two-person teams composed of CMPD’s Missing Person Unit investigators, U.S. Marshals, and Department of Public Safety officers found 27 more missing juveniles, as reported by local Charlotte TV station WCNC.
These 27 critically missing children had been missing for anywhere from six months to over a year, according to McNelly, and some did not want to be identified.
“Kids who are actively taking measures to avoid being recovered. They’re self-sustaining, they’re trying to make money, support themselves,” Captain McNelly added.
But unfortunately, there weren’t many positive ways for them to do that, McNelly said.
“These kids were engaged in high-risk activities,” McNelly said. “Not to sugar coat anything but narcotics activities, human trafficking, prostitution.”
Dr. Stacy Reynolds with Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital said they were part of the partnership and helped work with the kids after they were found. Reynolds also noted that the kids’ intent was not to engage in such harmful or illegal practices.
“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,” Reynolds told WCNC.
The children were mainly between the ages of 14 and 18, with some younger. They were trying to get away from their home lives, McNelly said.
“These kids come from traumatic backgrounds, potentially abusive households, drug and alcohol addiction, incarcerated parents,” McNelly said.
Social and health workers are also working with the children to ensure that they do not revert to their old life.
“We’re proud of what we were able to do for the community through this,” McNelly said.
McNelly said the investigators are looking into human trafficking leads, which would hopefully lead to an arrest if warranted.