The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for usually finding and arresting violent criminals, but over the past 10 weeks they've used those skills to locate 225 endangered missing children across the country.
"The majority of the kids who have been part of this Operation We Will Find You are kids coming from a crisis situation, who then have gone missing through being running away or leaving traumatic home situations," U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref said. "There's also been ones who have been abducted."
The operation was a joint effort between the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Attorney's Office and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and was conducted in partnership with state and local law enforcement. At least 16 of the children located were from Eastern Washington.
"Children that were not only vulnerable, but at risk and fit criteria that warranted special attention ... to locate them and bring them back into a secure situation where they could either be reunited or put in touch with the services to help them and restore their childhood," U.S. Marshal Craig Thayer said.
One of the notable cases of recovering missing children was related to a homicide investigation out of the Tri-Cities, where a couple suspected of killing 8-year-old Edgar Casian of Pasco was put on the U.S. Marshal's Top 15 Most Wanted list.
"The individuals were located in Mexico and the Marshals Service was able to, with the assistance of the Mexican authorities, take them into custody and actually recover five other children that were with them and bring them back to the United States," Thayer said. "The wanted individuals are currently awaiting an extradition process in in Mexico, back to the United States."
"Operation We Will Find You" is one of the first nationwide missing children operations targeting areas with high clusters of critically missing children. Notably, the operation:
Resulted in the recovery of 169 children, with the youngest being just 6 months old.
Resulted in the safe location of 56 more children.
Ended with U.S. Marshals referring 28 cases to law enforcement agencies for "further investigation of alleged crimes such as drugs and weapons possession, sex trafficking, and failures to register as a sex offender."
Involved endangered runaways in 85% of the cases, family abductions in 9% of the cases and involved allegations of sex trafficking in 40 cases.
Located 42 children outside the city where they went missing and 10 outside of the United States.
Investigated 20 cases from the Eastern District of Washington involving allegations of endangered missing children, runaways and children abducted by non-custodial parents.
“Reuniting missing children with loved ones and connecting them with appropriate services is a mission in which the United States Marshals Service takes great pride," Thayer said. "The specialized skillset that the U.S. Marshals Service provides to our Local, State, and Tribal partners in locating and recovering missing, and oftentimes exploited children, provides these children a second chance for a better childhood by being reunited with their loved ones and connected with other necessary help.”
Thayer said in cases of missing children, it's especially important that people make the report to law enforcement immediately and include as much information as possible to give investigators the best chance at finding them.
"Their description, photographs, the activities that they've been involved with, their circle of friends, acquaintances, areas that they're familiar with," Thayer said.
Thayer said while the operation is over, the push to find missing and endangered children is an ongoing issue that is far from over.
"We will continue to work — when we've received appropriate requests from local agencies — on these cases as our resources allow," Thayer said.
Anyone who has any information about a missing child should call 911 or contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST (1-800-843-5678).
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Emily Goodell joined the KAPP/KVEW team in February 2019.
Emily was born in raised in Yakima, where she currently works as our Yakima Bureau Chief. She’s worked in nearly every journalism medium, but above all else, her passion is investigative reporting. At the Yakima Herald-Republic, Emily worked as a breaking news, city government and crime and courts reporter. She’s served as a city government and education reporter at the Ellensburg Daily Record, a freelance journalist for Yakima Valley Publishing and as Northwest Public Broadcasting’s Yakima Correspondent.
Emily completed a news reporting internship with Spokane Public Radio and an arts and culture reporting internship with The Inlander, an alternative urban weekly in Spokane, Wash.
She also covered censorship and freedom of the press issues facing student media across the nation at the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C. Emily graduated from Whitworth University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Mass Communication.
In college, Emily worked with her colleagues and researchers at Florida International University on a collaborative project looking at the experiences of women working as professionals in the communication field. Throughout her high school and college career, Emily competed in speech and debate tournaments at the regional, state and national level.
Emily is an avid traveler. Within the U.S., she’s visited 16 states and the District of Columbia. Outside the country, she’s also been to Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. While in Durban, South Africa, Emily was more than 10,000 miles away from her hometown — about as far as you can get.