HONOLULU (KHON2) — According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there were 140 missing children in Hawaii in 2021 with 16 of those cases still active.
Looking out for Hawaii’s keiki is a multiagency operation from county, state and federal law enforcement protecting children online and getting them off the streets.
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Often times criminals behind sex trafficking lure children through a simple online message.
“They pretend to be another child, when in fact they’re an adult and they’re trying to get these kids involved in something that they really shouldn’t,” said FBI Honolulu Special Agent in Charge Steven Merill
The state’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit said suspects go after vulnerable keiki and that’s where the task force steps in.
“We actually go out and we look for missing endangered runaways because that is a big issue here,” said Edward Arias, ICAC commander of Hawaii. “I’m pretty sure you go anywhere and you see all the signs of all the kids that are missing and we pay particular attention to those that may be vulnerable to being trafficked.”
The Missing Child Center-Hawaii works tirelessly to investigate cases of runaway, endangered and missing children.
“We are working approximately 30 to 40 active cases and that doesn’t include our long-term missing cold cases,” said Amanda Leonard of the Missing Child Center. “We also assist other states with locating their missing children when there is a connection to our state.”
County law enforcement is often the first to respond to a case. Each county has dozens of missing children reports posted online. In February, the Hawaii Police Department added a new member to help specifically with locating missing individuals.
“Scout, he’s coming along, he’s completed the initial part of his training for tracking, live tracking of missing children or adults as well,” said Lt. Robert Pauole.
The FBI said, there are preventative measures guardians can take like monitoring who children are speaking to online and checking for any sudden behavioral changes.
It’s something that recently helped the FBI track down a suspect.
“As soon as we got the tip, we worked with our partners to identify the child and identify the person that was trafficking,” Merill said. “We were able to recover the child thank goodness and separate the child from the subject.”
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The public can help with these cases. Contact local law enforcement with any tips or the FBI at (808) 566-4300 or (800) CALL FBI. They can also provide online tips to the FBI. For more information click here.