US Marshals Service, along with the Mahoning County Sheriff's Office and the Youngstown Police Department, have recovered seven missing children from Youngstown during an operation with federal, state and local agencies.

Operation 'We Will Find You' goal was to recover endangered missing children, and 35 children were recovered, including the four local children.

The operation was focused in the Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Canton, and Youngstown areas.

The operation led to the recovery of:

  • A 17-year-old female from Youngstown missing since February 7 being found in Dayton on March 31
  • A 16-year-old was recovered by the Marshals and Youngstown Police Department. She was reported missing on April 20 and located eight days later
  • A 14-year-old female located by Youngstown USMS, reported missing on August 29, 2022, and was located on March 8.
  • A 12-year-old boy located by Youngtown USMS, reported missing on February 21 and was located on March 21.

In the Youngstown area there were seven cases initiated and closed by the USMS. Four were recovered by the USMS and three were recovered by other law enforcement agencies.

Marshals say this is the third large-scale missing child operation conducted by the U.S. Marshals in Northern Ohio. The operation ran from March 1 through May 15 and 35 children around the state were recovered.

Alex Rutter, the Public Affairs Officer of the Northern District of Ohio told 21 News that the outcome of the operation was a "major success."

The nationwide operation targeted 16 major cities or regions, with northern Ohio being included, with more than 200 children recovered across the US.

Rutter said that last year there were approximately 335,000 missing children reported, with most reported as endangered missing children or ones with risk factors. 

Rutter said that mental health, physical health, medication, disabilities, drug or alcohol abuse or sex trafficking. 91 percent of all runaways, which is the largest percentage of missing children, fall into the endangered category, one in six become victims of human trafficking he added.

According to the press release, all the missing juvenile’s whereabouts were unknown and placed them in an elevated risk of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, substance abuse or human trafficking.

Susan Laird is a victim advocate who also teaches a course at YSU on recognizing human trafficking. While it's hard to say what led the victims in this case to end up in danger, Laird says a major key in fighting human trafficking is knowing what it is and what it isn't.

"I think we have to look at dispelling some of the myths," said Laird. "These kids are not often taken. It happens, but it's a very small percentage." She went on to add that there are signs that you can watch for to potentially save someone being trafficked. 

"When you see kids out on the street, youth, and it doesn't look right," explained Laird. "Maybe their clothes are dirty, maybe they're wandering around, maybe they approach you for money. Call local law enforcement."

These most recent cases led officers across Ohio, California, Arizona, and West Virginia.

Pete Elliott with the US Marshals said, “The main objective of Operation We Will Find You was to find as many critically missing children as possible. The epidemic of missing children in our country needs a spotlight, it needs our focus. We hope operations like this sharpen that focus. Every child deserves a safe environment to grow up in, and we are dedicated to helping provide that for the children and families in Northern Ohio.”

Anyone with information concerning a missing child can contact the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force at 1-866-4WANTED (1-866-492-6833), or you can submit a web tip. Reward money is available, and tipsters may remain anonymous.

Laird speaks to and on behalf of trafficking victims in addition to her teaching a human trafficking course at YSU. She can be reached at [email protected]