The U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit completed a two-week operation in Georgia that led to the discovery of 39 missing children and the arrest of nine people. 

In a statement posted to their website on Thursday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals said they worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as Georgia state and local agencies to complete "Operation Not Forgotten."

The operation was conducted in both Atlanta and Macon, Georgia. Twenty-six children were rescued and the safe location of 13 more was identified during the search. In addition to the nine people who were subsequently arrested, the agency said 26 arrest warrants were cleared and charges were filed ranging from sex trafficking, parental kidnapping and registered sex offender violations to drugs possession, weapons possession and custodial interference.

“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we're putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child. It's hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need,” said Darby Kirby, chief of the Missing Child Unit.

The children that had been located were part of a severely at-risk group that was particularly challenging to recover. Many of the children they found had been victimized, trafficked, exploited, sexually abused, physically abused and suffering from adverse mental or physical health conditions. 

Other children were located by the marshals to ensure they were being well taken care of, according to the agency statement. 

Last year, the U.S. Marshals Service worked to find 295 missing children and has a 75% recovery rate in the cases they receive. At least 66% were found within a week of the marshals getting involved in the case, the statement read. 

“The U.S. Marshals Service is fully committed to assisting federal, state, and local agencies with locating and recovering endangered missing children, in addition to their primary fugitive apprehension mission. The message to missing children and their families is that we will never stop looking for you,” said Director of the Marshals Service Donald Washington.

At a news conference, Washington said the children ranged in age from 3 to 17, according to CNN. He added that marshals are currently conducting a similar operation in Cleveland that has already led to the discovery of 15 missing children and the arrest of two people. 

Washington said the agency is also working on "Operation Summer Rescue" in New Orleans.

In 2019, the FBI received 421,000 missing child reports and 91% are considered endangered runaways, Washington noted, according to ABC News.

More than 60,000 are considered likely to be forced into sex trafficking, Washington told reporters. 

"Sex trafficking can be in many ways a hidden crime, one that lives in the shadows. I always go back to the fact that if we can save one child from a life of abuse or sex trafficking, we've done our job. And this operation did that for many, many children," Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said at a press conference.