An operation led by the Michigan State Police along with the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and several other Michigan law enforcement agencies found over 100 missing children during a one-day sweep in Wayne County late last month. Operation MISafeKid was the first of its kind in Wayne County, and sought to identify and recover 301 missing children, with an emphasis on locating victims of sex trafficking.
“We went out and checked last known addresses, schools and parents to find out if they were still missing, or if the parents never went back to contact law enforcement to see if they’d been removed from the system,” Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw told the Detroit News. “We located 107; 103 of them were either at home or where they belonged.”
There has been some confusion over how many children were recovered, as the U.S. Marshals put out a press release earlier this month saying 123 children had been located, 16 more than the State Police tally. The press release also mentions a separate investigation, also in September, but from before the sweep, in which deputy U.S. Marshals from DMCRU were asked to investigate 30 cases involving missing children; nine children were recovered prior to the sweep and another seven were located during the operation. Reached for clarification, a representative from DMCRU confirmed that these cases account for the discrepancy and are from the separate but overlapping investigation, and not part of the 301 targeted by the sweep.
Both the U.S. Marshals and the Michigan State Police confirmed that of the 107 children recovered under Operation MISafeKid, three were identified as being possible sex trafficking cases; a fourth case involving a homeless 14-year-old who was abandoned by his mother after his father went to prison and hadn’t eaten in three days.
“The mom just left him behind,” Shaw said. “He was placed in foster care in the Saginaw area but he ran away and went to his old house looking for his mom. The house was vacant, so he just stayed there. “He was making his bed every day, but he wasn’t going to school. We got him to a place where he could get proper food and shelter.”
The remaining children who were found, according to Shaw, weren’t actually missing. Many had been reported missing in the past, but their guardians had failed to update law enforcement that they’d returned home or been found.
“Many were [home-schooled],” Shaw told the Detroit News. “Some were runaways as well.”
The operation also recovered new information about two missing children in Texas, and one missing child in Minnesota; all three cases are actively being investigated.
“The message to the missing children and their families that we wish to convey is that we will never stop looking for you,” the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.
Shaw told the Detroit News that state authorities are also committed to locating the approximately 200 other missing children targeted during the operation.
“We get more than 1,000 runaway complaints per month,” he said. “Most of those who are still missing are runaways. The investigators will continue looking for them.”