A coordinated effort to identify and locate missing children across Tennessee has led to the recovery of 150 missing children by the United States Marshals Service, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Planning for the effort, named ‘Operation Volunteer Strong,’ began in the fall of 2020, with operation efforts launching on January 4th. After identifying 240 missing children statewide, TBI intelligence analysts compiled thorough information and potential leads on each, which designated law enforcement teams carefully pursued during two-week blitzes in each of Tennessee’s three grand regions.
EAST TENNESSEE: January 4th – 15th
- Authorities identified 86 missing children, of which 56 were recovered, five of them in other states.
- Of the 56 children recovered, authorities located 27 of them in the weeks leading up to the operation, and three after it concluded.
- Law enforcement identified three of the recovered juveniles as potential human trafficking victims, resulting in a still-active TBI investigation.
“The U.S. Marshals are committed to assisting state and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children to help prevent their falling victim to crimes of violence and exploitation,” said David Jolley, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “We will use every resource at our disposal to help find these missing children.”
MIDDLE TENNESSEE: January 25th – February 5th
- Authorities identified 72 missing children, of which 42 were recovered.
- Of the 42 children recovered, authorities located 29 of them in the weeks leading up to the operation, and 13 during the operation.
- Law enforcement identified one child as a potential human trafficking victim, resulting in a still-active TBI investigation.
“We can’t give up. We need the public, the media, and all law enforcement to not give up,” said Denny King, U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Tennessee. “If you see something, or know something, say something. We cannot give up and stop searching for our most vulnerable and those who cannot help themselves.”
WEST TENNESSEE: February 8th – 12th & February 22nd – 26th
- Authorities identified 82 missing children, of which 52 were recovered, three of them in other states.
- Of the 52 children recovered, authorities located 33 of them in the weeks leading up to the operation, 18 during the operation, and one after it concluded
- While searching for missing children, authorities located two adults with outstanding warrants.
- Law enforcement identified one of the recovered juveniles as a human trafficking victim, resulting in a still-active investigation by a Mississippi local law enforcement agency and FBI.
- Authorities safely recovered a child during an active kidnapping investigation, resulting in the arrest of the suspect.
“I hope this operation changes the course for 150 young lives and leads them to the path of opportunities every child deserves,” said Tyreece Miller, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Tennessee. “Our efforts should also serve notice to those who prey on society’s most vulnerable that these children are not forgotten. Investigations will continue and the next knock at the door could be for you.”
During the operation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), based in Alexandria, VA, provided research and analytical support.
“Operation Volunteer Strong is a great example of how working together, we can find missing children and get them the help they need to move forward,” said John Clark, NCMEC’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We’re thrilled to see so many missing children recovered in Tennessee and we thank all the agencies involved for their dedication to child protection.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation serves as the clearinghouse for missing children in the state of Tennessee. In this role, the agency provides support to local law enforcement agencies, raises awareness of missing children and prevention efforts, and administers high-profile efforts to locate missing children in dangerous situations through its Endangered Child Alert and AMBER Alert programs.
“Many people don’t realize this, but hundreds of children go missing in our state every month,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “From runaways that may leave their home out of desperation or despair, to those entangled in a custody battle, every single one of them deserves a fighting chance, and that’s why they also deserve our best work to help them.”
Most of the children recovered during the operation will receive services through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which may include placements in foster homes, group homes, or other specialized care.
“We are grateful that missing children have been recovered and are now receiving the services and treatment they need to stay safe and healthy,” said DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols. “This operation was truly a collaboration and it’s strengthened our relationship with our law enforcement partners. Working together, the agents, marshals, and DCS case managers put in countless hours to track down leads and locate these missing children.”