CHARLOTTE — Dozens of young people are safe after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Missing Person’s Unit conducted an operation that brought them home.
According to CMPD, “Operation Carolina Homecoming” was focused on finding missing and runaway juveniles in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.
During the 11-day operation, 157 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 were found -- some of which were engaged in prostitution and drugs. The department said many of them had been missing for more than six months and were found living in hotels, with friends or adult partners.
“There were a few people involved in human trafficking activities and that’s something we take seriously,” Capt. Joe McNelly with CMPD’s Violent Crimes Division said. “This is a jumping off point to start an investigation.”
McNelly said many of the children had been taken advantage of.
“People who do this are looking for people vulnerable people who have bad home lives and are looking for something else -- people easily manipulated,” he said.
The teens were reunited with their families or returned to DSS custody, according to CMPD.
Officials said the operation exposed the need for more youth intervention programs, like Gemini Boyd’s nonprofit Project Bolt. Boyd told Channel 9 he knows how taking the wrong path as a teen can impact the rest of your life.
“I ended up in prison at 16 for being involved in a crime where a young man lost his life,” he said. “I don’t wanna see no one go through this.”
He said he now helps mentor young people on the path he once walked.
“If we could get more safe spaces with more grassroots grounded organizations throughout the city, it may be easier for a child to run there opposed to running to a gang, opposed to getting caught up into sex trafficking,” Boyd said.
Police said that, so far, they haven’t made any arrests but this could lead to charges in the future.
The department partnered with U.S. Marshals, Atrium Health, Levine Children’s Hospital, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center, the State Bureau of Investigation and Mecklenburg County Child Protective Services during the investigation.
If you or someone you know is at risk of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or you can text 233-733.
It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
To learn more about these cases, visit the The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website.
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Cox Media Group