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Charlotte police locate 150+ missing juveniles through ‘Operation Carolina Homecoming’

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 11:16 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg police located over 150 missing juveniles during an operation and brought them home.

Most of the juveniles had been missing for more than six months, police say.

“The juveniles were reunited with their families or returned to DSS custody,” police say. And intensified operation of “Operation Carolina Homecoming” took place between April 26 and May 7, when at least 27 juveniles were found.

Many of the juveniles were found living at hotels, with an adult partner or with a friend.

“Several of the juveniles were discovered to have been engaged in high-risk activities such as prostitution and narcotics activity, and a few of them were victims of human trafficking,” police say.

“These are kids who have really tried to get away from home situations or they don’t like being in CPS custody or living in a group home, or they’re just engaging in criminal activity,” police said. Many juveniles who run away may disappear for hours, days or weeks, police say, but “these are kids who are taking active measures not to be found.”

Atrium Health partnered with CMPD and other agencies to help provide physical and mental health care services. Doctors try to connect with the juveniles and help them heal after many experienced trauma.

Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center, the North Carolina ISAAC Fusion Center and Mecklenburg County Child Protective Services also assisted to provide the juveniles with resources for recovery.

“This is really a call to action for the community,” the doctor said. “I think we all know there’s a mental health and behavioral health crisis.”

Most of the juveniles were between 14 and 18 years old, with some being younger.

“Some of these kids run because they’re seeking love and acceptance,” the doctors said, at which time predators step in to try and provide that.

“There definitely are predators out there in society who try to connect with people through social media,” police said. “The people who do this know exactly who they’re looking for.”

Last year, Charlotte police said they had at least 2,300 missing persons.

Mark Blackwell, executive director of Justice Ministries, works to help people who are victims of human trafficking. He said his organization works closely with the CMPD, but was not involved in “Operation Carolina Homecoming”. Blackwell said he was very happy to hear that the operation had been a success.

“When we find kids or when we hear of kids of being found, we’re just so excited to hear that because it’s a very dangerous situation,” explained Blackwell.

He explained that a case where a teen goes missing can quickly become a more dangerous situation.

“Within the first 72 hours, there’s a very high risk of a runaway being approached by a trafficker,” said Blackwell. “Traffickers and predators, they’re looking for this. They call them predators for a reason. They’re predatory in nature. They’re actively seeking out easy victims.”

The Justice Ministries founder said he encourages parents to monitor what their children are doing online.

“It’s so important to know our children’s online activity, what apps are on their phone, these kind of things,” said Blackwell. “You may have to be the bad guy at times, but I’d rather them be mad at you for the weekend than be missing for who knows how long.”

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