Some 16 missing children have been recovered in an operation led by the U.S. Marshals Service Eastern District of Louisiana New Orleans Task Force which also uncovered allegations of sex trafficking in some of the cases, the agency announced.
In a news release published Thursday, the agency revealed that through "Operation Fresh Start,” conducted from Jan. 1 to March 31, they made five arrests and are currently pursuing the arrest of four other adults.
“Based on the operation at least four (4) felony warrants exist for adults suspected of involvement with MCU minors and the USMS New Orleans Task Force is actively pursuing these fugitives,” the agency said.
In one of the cases, marshals recovered a 14-year-old female on March 25 from an address in Fayetteville, Georgia, living with several adults. She had run away from her family in New Orleans in January, authorities said.
“The teen had run away from New Orleans in January of 2022 and her family were concerned about her possible involvement in sex trafficking and believed that she was with an older male in Florida. USMS investigation shows the teen may have also traveled to the Jacksonville, Florida area as well before being located in Georgia,” the U.S. Marshals Service said.
A day later, on March 26, marshals also rescued another 14-year-old habitual runaway from a location in Addis, Louisiana. The teenager was described as a “previous victim of sexual assault.” She was returned to St. Tammany Parish after the rescue.
According to the release, New Orleans was one of the original U.S. cities to begin a USMS pilot program for the Missing Child Unit in 2016, and U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Scott Illing, said he was proud of the work they have done so far.
“I am very proud of the cooperative work done by all the agencies involved in safeguarding at risk children. Our Office is proud to be a part of a robust MCU program that took root in New Orleans starting in 2016,” Illing said in a statement. “This work is being done with our partners while our office still performs its critical USMS missions (judicial and witness security, managing federal prisoners, violent fugitives’ apprehension, sex offender investigations, and service of federal process).”
Several of the cases also involved custodial disputes between parents, which can sometimes turn deadly.
Marshals successfully recovered a 5-year-old female and 7-year-old male who were taken by their mother, who was the non-custodial parent.
“The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office issued a felony warrant for the mother of the children for kidnapping, and she made active attempts to avoid arrest along the way,” the release said. “The non-custodial parent/mother took the children to the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida area and the USMS Florida/Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force was able to recover the children and arrest the mother on her Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office warrant.”
On Jan. 31, marshals also recovered a 1-year-old male child abducted by his father after the father shot and killed the infant’s grandfather in New Orleans, Louisiana, the agency said.
Ramee is currently in custody on a second degree murder charge.
“New Orleans Police Department Violent Offenders Warrant Squad (VOWS) and USMS New Orleans Task Force immediately began to search for Edmond RAMEE Sr., and he surrendered to NOPD VOWS on the evening of 01/31/2022, with the child being safely located and recovered,” the U.S. Marshals Service said.
Not all custody disagreements end with children being recovered safely.
In January, Tennessee Pastor Kenneth Cook died along with his 16-year-old step-daughter, Teagan Welch, and Teagan’s biological father, Christopher Ray Welch, 48, after a domestic-related shooting in White Pine at a Pilot gas station.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office told WVLT News that the Jan. 3 event stemmed from a custody drop-off between the pastor’s wife and Teagan’s father, who were meeting to change custody of their child.
Last month, three sisters were fatally shot by their father in another domestic dispute concerning custody. The father also killed himself and their chaperone inside the sanctuary of The Church in Sacramento during a supervised visit in California. All the individuals involved were members of the church.
The Sacramento coroner’s office identified the father as David Mora Rojas, 39. His daughters were identified as Samarah Mora Gutierrez, 9; Samantha Mora Gutierrez, 10, and Samia Mora Gutierrez, 13. The late chaperone was identified as Nathaniel Kong, 59. Business records show that he was an executive of the church.