Photo by Ben Wicks via Unsplash

In an operation entitled “Lost Souls,” multiple agencies united to recover 24 missing and/or runaway children in El Paso County, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. 

The movement, which began in mid-May, was headed by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Texas Department of Public Safety, in addition to various other agencies assisting to find the missing children– marking the first time that over 15 law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups joined forces for this kind of circumstance. Now, a child sex trafficking investigation is under way. 

“Child sex trafficking and human trafficking are serious concerns for the El Paso community, the State of Texas, and the entire nation, and DPS will not stand by while dangerous individuals commit crimes that harm our children and communities,” said Regional Director Orlando Alanis in a press release. 

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The Texas DPS said that three of the children were recovered in Mexico, one in Puerto Rico, as well as a child in California and one in Oklahoma. 

Runaway children are extremely vulnerable to trafficking, according to HSI special agent Erik P. Breitzke. The operation, therefore, may have saved the childrens’ lives. 

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), an organization that serves as the national resource center for the missing and exploited, these 24 children are only a small percentage in the number of reported missing children annually. In 2020 alone, there were over 365,000 children reported missing through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

Over 26,500 runaways were reported to the NCMEC in 2020. One in six of them were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Other child groups at high-risk of sex trafficking are those of the LGBTQ, African American or Latinx communities. 

Opal Singleton, the President and CEO of Million Kids –– nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping kids safe from predators–– offered her expertise to Scriberr News.

“This issue is extremely important, especially after COVID-19. With so many kids online meeting up with strangers they often disappear,” Singleton said. “These operations to locate kids and be able to assist them and get them back to Safehaven is absolutely critical. It is a top priority for law enforcement and social services departments all over the nation.”

The additional agencies in Operation Lost Souls that helped include: the El Paso Police Department, El Paso Sheriff’s Office, Socorro, Ysleta and El Paso Independent School District Police departments, U.S. Marshals Service, El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department, Ysleta Del Sur Tribal Police Division, Texas Anti-Gang Center, the Border Prosecution Unit for the District Attorney’s Office for the 34th Judicial District, El Paso County Attorney’s Office, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division.

Written ByAddison Gallagher

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