BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The U.S. Marshal Service announced Friday they recovered 18 missing or endangered children and located dozens more in Maryland as a part of "Operation Not Forgotten."
U.S. Marshals focused on locating critically missing children over the 60-day operation. Eleven children returned to guardians on their own. Agents also located 102 children, who had previously been reported missing, and confirmed their return to guardians.
"Children are a blessing and are America's future leaders," said U.S. Marshal Johnny L. Hughes. "We must always protect their innocence and defend them from physical and sexual abuse by predators and unscrupulous individuals."
"I have two boys. They're both grown now, but I remember raising them," he added. "Having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body."
Back in August, U.S. Marshals found 39 missing children in Georgia over a two-week operation.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to supporting our law enforcement partners in pursuit of justice on behalf of vulnerable members of our society—especially children," said Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner. "We commend the U.S. Marshals Service and their law enforcement partners for their leadership and tireless work in finding children and bringing them home. Everyone in the community must prioritize child safety and preventing victimization, including through mentoring and other supportive programs to help at-risk children and their families. Our office will always aggressively pursue and prosecute those who prey on young people, and we are pleased to support efforts like this operation."
The Department of Human Services and the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force have responded to up to 21 thousand youth trafficked in the United States.
"It is no secret that the number in nature of threats against our children have increased over the COVID-19 pandemic," Lenzner told WJZ.
The Justice For Victims of Trafficking Act grants the Marshal Service the authority to assist state and local agencies in helping children.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison talked about the department's role.
"The Baltimore Police Department played a critical role in making sure we visibly confirmed that the children were returned to their legal guardian," he said.
This is along with removing their information about being missing from the NCIC Database system. Despite the 60 day operation officially ending, the Marshals said the work still continues.
"With the numbers and the success that we had, this is just the beginning, especially in this area. This is just the beginning of what we're going to start and we're going to keep on going with."
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