In North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Missing Person’s Unit conducted “Operation Carolina Homecoming” which focused on finding missing and runaway minors in the area.
For 11 days, 157 juveniles were found between the ages of 14-18. According to law enforcement, some of them were prostituting themselves and engaged in drug activities.
The police partnered with U.S. Marshals, and the Department of Public Safety officers.
Many of the children rescued were missing for six months to a year, and were found living in hotels, with friends, or living with adult partners.
The CMPD Captain, Joe McNelly, said, “These kids were engaged in high-risk activities. Not to sugar coat anything but narcotics activities, human trafficking, prostitution.”
“These kids come from traumatic backgrounds, potentially abusive households, drug and alcohol addiction, incarcerated parents,” he said.
Dr. Stacy Renyolds from Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital helps the recovered children and is partnered with the police department. She says children who leave do not have intend to engage in illegal or dangerous activities.
“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,” she said.
According to the CMPD, in 2020 there were an estimated 2,300 missing persons reports.
Justice Ministries Director, Mark Blackwell, said, “Within the first 72 hours, there’s a very high risk of a runaway being approached by a trafficker. Traffickers and predators, they’re looking for this. They call them predators for a reason. They’re predatory in nature. They’re actively seeking out easy victims.”
McNelly says he will investigate leads to the human traffickers and hopes arrests will be made.