Over 150 missing and runaway children have been located in North Carolina as part of Operation Carolina Homecoming, a collaborative effort between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and federal agents.
According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) on Wednesday, a number of the juveniles “were discovered to have been engaged in high-risk activities such as prostitution and narcotics activity,” and several 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, as WCNC reported.
The department said 130 minors were found prior to the operation, and between April 26 and May 7, 27 more children were located by two-person teams comprised of CMPD’s Missing Person Unit detectives, U.S. Marshals and Department of Public Safety officers.
McNelly noted that the 27 kids recovered during the operation had been missing for between 6 months to over a year. Some did not want to be found, he said.
“Kids who are actively taking measures to avoid being recovered,” McNelly said. “They’re self-sustaining, they’re trying to make money, support themselves.”
“These kids were engaged in high-risk activities,” McNelly continued, recognizing that there are few positive ways for children to support themselves financially. “Not to sugar coat anything but narcotics activities, human trafficking, prostitution.”
Most of the children were 14-18 years old who were trying to escape difficult situations at home.
“These kids come from traumatic backgrounds, potentially abusive households, drug and alcohol addiction, incarcerated parents,” McNelly said.
The CMPD uses partnerships with Atrium Health Levine Children’s, Path’s Place Child Advocacy Center, the North Carolina ISAAC Fusion Center and Mecklenburg County Child Protective Services to assist with the children after they were recovered.
Dr. Stacy Reynolds from Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital said the facility found kids rarely intend to engage in harmful or criminal 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,” Reynolds said.
Now, social and health professionals are helping the children stay away from the dangerous lifestyles they temporarily engaged in.
“We’re proud of what we were able to do for the community through this,” McNelly said, adding that the cases of human trafficking are under investigation.