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FBI found 28 child victims, 9 sexually exploited in metro Atlanta during operation

'Operation Cross Country IV' lasted two weeks, and investigators found 18 missing kids locally and 9 children victims of sex trafficking.

ATLANTA — A total of 28 minors were recovered locally during a 2-week operation where the FBI focused on sex trafficking victims. The announcement came during a news conference Tuesday, one day after the Department of Justice released nationwide numbers regarding "Operation Cross Country."

The FBI said nine of the 28 found in the metro Atlanta operation were sex trafficked and said 18 were missing children. The department said four suspects were taken into custody. The operation ran from August 4 through August 14. 

"We remain vigilant in taking down those who prey on our country's most innocent population," Special Agent in Charge Keri Farley with Atlanta's FBI said.

Farley said most of the suspects they found are using online dating apps and chat rooms but cautioned that many are still taken or coerced in other ways. 

"Every parent should be concerned about their children and their online activity," she said.

When victims are recovered, Farley said their team helps them get back on their feet by partnering with a resource specialist who can help find education, housing and even connecting them with family members. 

Below | Watch a replay of the conference on 11Alive's YouTube channel.

Local agencies that participated in the operation included Dunwoody Police, Cob County Police, Atlanta Police and the Fulton County Sheriff's Office. Police departments with Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Gwinnett County Schools, Cobb County Schools, and Carroll County Schools also participated, the FBI said. 

The department released nationwide info from their search on Monday. The FBI located 84 victims of child sex exploitation and found 37 actively missing children during the national sex trafficking initiative. 

"This used to be more of a street problem but now we got to protect our children while our doors are locked," said Brooke Ruffin, who is on the outreach team of Street Grace, a group that helps those who've been the target of trafficking. 

She said since the start of the COVID pandemic, kids are spending more time online than ever- which could put them in danger. She said parents should look for these signs: 

  • Changes in the way their child dresses
  • Withdrawal from in-person engagement and the child spending more time on devices
  • More time away from the house
  • Responding to messages in private

In addition to locating and identifying the underage victims, the FBI found 141 trafficked adults nationwide. The average age of the victims was 15.5 years old, and the youngest was 11 years old. 

"Operation Cross Country" worked alongside 200 state, local and federal partners and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to conduct 391 operations in August. During their investigation, the Department of Justice said agents identified 85 suspects of child sex exploitation and human trafficking offenses.

“The success of Operation Cross County reinforces what NCMEC sees every day. Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs and even family members,” said Michelle DeLaune, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, in the press release.

Street Grace has an internet safety training class coming up that's free and online. Get more information on it's website.


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