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A covert mission to rescue missing children in Georgia and reunite them with their loved ones has finally come to a successful end.

The recent two-week-long quest called “Operation Not Forgotten,” conducted in the Atlanta and Macon area, successfully resulted in the rescue of 26 children, the safe location of 13 children and the arrest of nine criminal associates, according to a Thursday press release from the U.S. Marshals Service. What a hopeful piece of news in such a dark, awful world.

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The operation was led by the U.S Marshals Service Missing Child Unit in tandem with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and state and local authorities in August. Together, the agencies were able to locate the missing children, who were considered among the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases in the area. Authorities said this was due to indications of high-risk factors such as victimization of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and medical or mental health conditions.

Per the release, USMS investigators were able to confirm each child’s location in person and assure their safety and welfare. We can’t imagine what those kids must have been going through while their families were no doubt worried sick about their whereabouts. Those poor souls could’ve been killed or worse, and it cannot be understated how great a victory this is. Officials still have their sights set on catching the rest of the creeps still out there, though. They have also reportedly cleared 26 arrest warrants and filed additional charges for alleged crimes related to sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, registered sex offender violations, drugs and weapons possession, and custodial interference.

Darby Kirby, Chief of the Missing Child Unit, said in a statement:

“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child.”

She added:

“It’s hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need.”

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Additionally, Director of the Marshals Service Donald Washington offered these remarks about the impact of Operation Not Forgotten:

“The message to missing children and their families is that we will never stop looking for you.”

Again, this was the best possible outcome in this situation and we hope their combined task force will continue to funnel resources into finding other at-risk youth that are still out there and in need of help. As made clear by the ongoing revelations in the infamous Jeffrey EpsteinGhislaine Maxwell alleged sex trafficking ring, there is so much more work to be done with putting an end to these heinous acts and bringing perpetrators to justice. Kids deserve a better, safer world to grow up in than this.

Sending all of our love and healing to those brave rescued children.

[Image via U.S. Marshal Service.]

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