Thanks to an enormous, multi-agency effort in and around West Texas, 70 children have been found and rescued - many from abusive and exploitative situations.

An operation co-handled by Homeland Security Investigations El Paso, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and multiple federal, state and local agencies has succeeded in returning children to their families.

"Operation Lost Souls", lasted for 3 weeks in both April and May, brought 70 children back home. The rescued children ranged in age from 10 to 17. Just imagine yourself at that age. I won't ask you to imagine the horrors these kids have witnesses because that's unimaginable for most of us.

According to a release by the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, some of the children were found to have suffered from sexual and physical abuse, or in some cases were victims of sex trafficking. Agencies involved also offered counseling and services for the children affected.

While the vast majority of children rescued in this operation were located in El Paso, Midland, Ector, and Tom Green counties in the western region of our state, some were found in Dallas and Ft. Worth, while others were rescued in Colorado and even across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

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In the release, HSI El Paso Deputy Special Agent in Charge Taekuk Cho spoke of how successful the operation was:

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," Cho continued on to say, “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 also commented how proud he was of the operation's success:

At the Department of Public Safety, teamwork is one of our core values, 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.

According to information shared by NewsNation, over 300,000 people are victims of human trafficking in Texas each year. A 2016 study showed that at least 79,000 children are victims of sex trafficking in Texas alone every year.

The Texas Attorney General's Office has lists of signs to watch out for in order to spot human trafficking, as well as information on how to report it.

Those who have information regarding any human trafficking victims are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888.

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**This story has been updated to reflect the current status of Melissa Lucio, who is scheduled to be executed on April 27th, 2022.**

**UPDATE 4/25/22: An appeals court has delayed the Texas execution of Melissa Lucio so a lower court can review her case.

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