According to a press release from DHS, the operation dubbed “Operation Lost Souls” was a massive three-week investigation that ran from the end of April to mid-May of this year. It focused on finding and rescuing children in El Paso, Midland, Ector, and Tom Green counties in West Texas.
The release detailed that many of the children, whose ages ranged from 10 to 17, were victims of sex trafficking and suffered both physical and sexual abuse.
A spokesperson with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) stated that the majority of the children, approximately 40, were recovered in the Midland/Odessa area, with the rest being found in other areas including the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, the State of Colorado, and Mexico.
“Operation Lost Souls exemplifies Homeland Security Investigations’ commitment to protecting the public from crimes of victimization. In this case, we are looking out for our children – our community’s most precious resource,” El Paso Deputy Special Agent in Charge Taekuk Cho is quoted in the release.
He added, “HSI is committed to continue working with our law enforcement partners to locate, recover and help missing children heal, while ensuring that perpetrators are held responsible for these heinous crimes and brought to justice.”
DPS Major Matthew Mull, who was part of the joint investigation, released a statement praising the teamwork between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that participated in the successful operation.
“We are grateful for all of our law enforcement partners who participated in this operation and who work around-the-clock every day to protect our communities, including our youth,” Mull said.
Numerous local and state law enforcement agencies are credited for assisting in Operation Lost Souls. This includes the El Paso County Constables, El Paso ISD Police, Midland County Sheriff’s Office, Midland ISD Police, Midland County Juvenile Probation Department, the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, Ector County ISD Police, Odessa Police Department, San Angelo Police Department, and Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office.
Non-law enforcement agencies also credited for assisting in the operation include the Advocacy Center for Children of El Paso, Paseo Del Norte Center of Hope, the El Paso Center for Children, Midland Rape Crisis and Children’s Advocacy Center, Harmony Home Children’s Advocacy Center, Midland Memorial Hospital SANE Nurses, and the Medical Center Hospital SANE Nurses.
According to a report by DHS, criminal human trafficking investigations have increased in recent years from 947 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 to 1,111 in FY 2021.
Federal authorities have also seen an uptick in arrests of human traffickers, increasing from 1,746 in FY 2020 to 2,360 in FY 2021 for cases related to sex trafficking and forced labor.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office describes human trafficking as “modern-day slavery” and has a division dedicated to investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases under state law.
DHS also noted that law enforcement was able to obtain additional information and leads relating to human trafficking during the Operation Lost Souls that they will continue to investigate.