56 missing, endangered East Tennessee children recovered during Operation Volunteer Strong


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One hundred fifty children missing in Tennessee have been recovered in a monthslong joint operation by state and local law enforcement.

The children range in age from 3 to 17 years old, 93 of whom are girls, officials said.

The United States Marshals Service, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation held a joint news conference Wednesday to announce the results of the collaborative effort to identify and recover missing children in Tennessee.

Operation Volunteer Strong set out last fall to track down each of the 240 children reported missing and endangered in Tennessee. Intelligence files were created by analysts and in January, ground teams started running down leads on each child during a two-week surge operation in all three regions of the state.

East Tennessee children recovered during January operation

  • Authorities identified 86 missing East Tennessee 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.

“Who were these children? Some left their home to run from some situation or conflict. Some were found with noncustodial parents or family members. Some fled from state custody. Some were dealing with abuse or exploitation,” TBI Assistant Special Agent Shelly Smitherman said.

U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee David Jolley said recovering just one would have been a success.

“U.S. Marshals are known for tracking down violent fugitives. … Why not apply those skills to finding missing children?” Jolley said.

“I cannot imagine being a parent, and my child missing … not knowing where my child is at or what that child may be experiencing,” U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Tennessee Denny King said. “And even more can you imagine being that child? What are they experiencing? And being that child and not knowing if anyone cares, if anyone is searching for them, have they forgotten about me? I just can’t imagine those circumstances.”

Forty-two cases were cleared in Middle Tennessee, King said. One was identified as a potential human trafficking case.

“We are grateful to be part of this effort. But our work is not done,” said Tyreece Miller, U.S. Marshal of the Western District of Tennessee. “Our commitment to finding our missing children will not end.”

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.

Others participating in the press conference are John Clark, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children; Jennifer Nichols, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services commissioner; and David Rausch Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director.

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