EL PASO COUNTY, Texas — A multi-agency effort, led by Homeland Security Investigations and the Texas Department of Public Safety, resulted in the recovery of 24 missing and/or runaway children throughout El Paso County and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
"Operation Lost Souls" included the following agencies working jointly: El Paso Police Department, El Paso Sheriff’s Office, Socorro, Ysleta and El Paso Independent School District Police departments, U.S. Marshals Service, El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department, Ysleta Del Sur Tribal Police Division, Texas Anti-Gang Center, the Border Prosecution Unit for the District Attorney’s Office for the 34th Judicial District, El Paso County Attorney’s Office, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division.
The week-long operation conducted in mid-May continues, DPS said in a press release. The Paseo Del Norte Center of Hope, the El Paso Center for Children Youth Outreach & Housing Division and Drop-in Center, also assisted.
This is the first time that more than 15 area agencies and non-governmental organizations collaborated to find missing children reported through the National Crime Information Center and local law enforcement agencies.
As a result of the operation:
- 24 missing or runaway children were found or recovered.
- Of the 24, four missing children were found or recovered - three in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico.
- Two of the missing children were found or recovered out-of-state – one each in California and Oklahoma.
- A child sexual assault and a human trafficking case are under investigation.
“Child sex trafficking and human trafficking are serious concerns for the El Paso community, the State of Texas, and the entire nation, and DPS will not stand by while dangerous individuals commit crimes that harm our children and communities,” Regional Director Orlando Alanis said in the release.
“Runaway children are at high risk of becoming trafficking victims and falling prey to individuals who want to hurt them and jeopardize their health and safety,” Erik P. Breitzke, special agent in charge for HSI El Paso, said. “I commend the law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations that participated in this operation that very well may have helped save lives. We will continue to collaborate and work tirelessly to identify and recover missing children.”
Individuals found were offered DPS Victims Services as well as the HSI Victim Assistance Program, a central piece of HSI’s victim-centered approach to assist with the investigation of crimes.
The release said this investigation highlights how local, state and federal law enforcement partners work together to combat child sex trafficking and human trafficking.
If you think you have seen a missing child, or if you have information on online solicitation/exploitation of a minor, contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 800-843-5678. The line is staffed 24 hours a day.
Victims of human trafficking or people with information about this type of criminal activity, should call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.
HSI and DPS are participating agencies in the TAG. Anonymous tips may be reported at Stopwesttexasgangs.org.