There are tens of thousands of missing kids nationwide, and many of them are young girls who are victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. That’s why the U.S. Marshals were tapped to put their fugitive hunting skills to work finding these at-risk kids and bringing them to safety.
Massachusetts was identified as one of 16 states in need of help finding endangered children. The NBC10 Investigators were invited along to witness the work of this federal operation firsthand.
U.S. Deputy Marshal Sean Bianchi made his way through the streets of Boston, with case files by his side, on a critical mission to find endangered children who are missing and in need of help.
“They’ve had prior exploitation or are victims of sexual assault. Maybe a DCF runaway but is with gang members. That’s a high risk factor for the kid,” Bianchi said.
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The important mission is part of the U.S. Marshal’s "Operation We Will Find You." An NBC10 Boston crew embedded with the marshals, who teamed up with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, state, and local police to try to make sure these kids are found and safe.
After months of being on the run, the search for a missing 15-year-old from Cambridge finally came to an end when she was spotted waiting for a bus on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester.
Bianchi talked the teen off the bus after investigators tracked her to a triple decker nearby. The home was around the corner from where a man was shot in the head a few days earlier.
“She’s wandering around Dorchester getting on the bus to go to another address that she wouldn’t give us," Bianch said. "She’s 15 years old, she’s had some concerning police reports in the past where you know she may be involved with some human trafficking activity.”
According to the U.S. Marshals, the teen is one of the estimated 30,000 children missing across the country. They said many of these kids have run away from foster care, from home or have been kidnapped or lured away.
U.S. Marshal for Massachusetts Brian Kyes said often the children are young girls who are suffering from medical or emotional issues.
“We want to intercept them before they stumble off and really get lost in a situation where there’s no coming back. It’s our job really to work with the locals and really try to locate them and certainly bring them to safety,” Kyes said.
For the mom of the teen who was found, there was immense relief after many sleepless nights.
“I started crying immediately. I think it was just gratitude. It’s like, 'OK, she’s alive, she’s alive. We found her and now we can do whatever comes next,'" she said. She told us her first concern was that her daughter was being exploited and maybe she didn’t even realize it.
After he found the teen, Bianchi said, “To remove her from the situation, whatever she was in, was a good thing. So today, yeah, it was a success.”
About a mile away, an apartment is searched for two young girls who have been missing for weeks. Investigators believe one was abused and trafficked. The woman who lived there said the girls know her daughter and came to her home when she wasn’t there. They were found days later living in squalor. One in the living room of the apartment, another hiding in a bedroom closet.
The mission took investigators to every corner of the state, from the city to the suburbs.
In Randolph, the search for a 16-year-old girl believed to have been taken from foster care in Maine by her family turned up empty. But the team helped locate six children, including a baby, who were allegedly abused by their parents and kidnapped from Haverhill.
Whether it’s bringing the missing home or to safety, the operation is aimed at trying to prevent vulnerable kids from becoming victims, one child at a time.
“When it comes to our young children, we do everything we possibly can," Kyes said. "If they go down the wrong side of the tracks and find themselves kind of caught in a web where they can’t get back, we want to be part of that equation to bring them home.”
During the past two-and-a-half months, this operation led to the recovery of 33 missing and endangered children in Massachusetts. Several people are now facing criminal charges in connection with the cases.
If your child is missing, contact your local police department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or at www.missingkids.org.