Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost along with federal and local law enforcement officials announced 177 people were arrested and 45 children were recovered in what they described as the most successful missing child recovery operation the U.S. Marshals service has participated in.
Yost said through the operation called Autumn Hope, 177 people were arrested statewide. Officials said 109 109 human trafficking victims were rescued and referred to social services.
The operation involved over 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government partners, making it the largest statewide anti-human trafficking operation in Ohio’s history.
U.S. Marshals were able to close 76 missing child cases and physically recover 45 children during the operation. Following investigations, four additional children returned home and 16 others were able to be located.
Among those missing included a 15-year-old girl missing from Cleveland whose recovery linked her and other possible victims to an individual in Columbus suspected of human trafficking.
Law enforcement officers also located a 15-year-old boy with two warrants who is a suspect in multiple shootings and a homicide.
The Lancaster Police Department said a 14-year-old girl was recovered in Columbus within six hours of being reported missing.
Two more kids were found after the USMS Southern Ohio task force sent information to Marshals in West Virginia. The two kids were recovered during a traffic stop after West Virginia police were told to be on the lookout for a man and the car he was driving. The man was charged with concealment/removal of a minor child.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said they arrested eight men who traveled to central Ohio with the intention to have sex with children.
The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office arrested 14 people last week who were involved in chat rooms looking for underage children. Those arrested were charged with attempted unlawful sexual conduct and attempted rape, among other sex charges.
Columbus police made 80 arrests.
Those arrested were charged with felony counts of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools and other felony charges include a pastor, students, and a rehabilitation resident advisor.
“These predators shamelessly target the most innocent and defenseless members of our community,” said Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin. “Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children.”
In Cuyahoga, Franklin and Lucas counties, 157 men were arrested on charges of soliciting and other crimes – a component of Operation Autumn Hope focused on reducing the demand for sex. Those arrested were charged with soliciting and other charges included a fireman, an attorney and a motivational speaker.
“The Dublin Police Department recognizes the importance of collaborating with local, state and federal agencies in order to rid our communities of this painful exploitation of our fellow citizens,” Dublin Chief of Police Justin Páez said. “Through operations and efforts like this, we can hold people accountable as well as bring justice and support to victims of human trafficking.”
U.S. Marshals Deputy Chief Bradley Stewart said the rescue wouldn’t have been possible without agencies throughout the state including Columbus police and Cincinnati police.