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14 missing kids, 17 adults rescued in Missouri human trafficking operation

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). (Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Released)
July 02, 2021

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) first revealed Tuesday that it rescued 14 missing children and 17 missing adults in Missouri as part of a larger human trafficking operation based in Kansas City.

According to a statement from HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Kansas City, James Wright, 82 arrests were made during the effort, which ran from June 17-26 in Wichita, Independence and Kansas City, Missouri.

HSI’s statement said the youngest person found was just four years old, and those arrested “will be charged with crimes related to soliciting prostitution, commercial sex trafficking, sodomy, narcotics violations, felony assault on a police officer, sex offender registry violations and outstanding warrants.”

Led by HSI Kansas City, the joint operation included HSI Wichita, Wichita Police Department, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kansas Highway Patrol, Health and Human Services, United States Marshal’s Service, Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Independence Police Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Bourbon County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hutchinson Police Department.

Kris Wade, executive director of the human rights advocacy group Justice Project, said the organization is assisting with the victims located during the operation, KCTV 5 reported.

“We want people to understand, any kids are at risk,” said Wade. “Any adults are at risk. Anyone is at risk for human trafficking.”

Wade said it’s critical that the public understand the victims’ ages, noting that human traffickers target younger people.

“The younger the victim, the more money the trafficker can make,” Wade said.

“That’s what we want. We want a very holistic, well-rounded approach to this,” she said. “Then we can be right there to talk with them and say ‘hey, we’re the guides to the way out. We’ve been through many of the same kinds of abuses that you have.’”

National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics show that more than 230 cases of human trafficking were reported in the state in 2019, making it the highest number of cases in Missouri in 5 years.

For people trying to seek help or report human trafficking, contact Federal law enforcement at 1-866-347-2423 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Individuals  can also text HELP or INFO to the hotline at 233733.

In May, twenty-four runaways and missing children were located during a similar joint effort by law enforcement agencies and child advocacy groups in El Paso, Texas.

Beginning in mid-May, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Texas Department of Public Safety led the effort dubbed “Operation Lost Souls,” marking the first time more than 15 child advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies joined forces in El Paso to locate missing children reported to the National Crime Information Center.