More than 120 children were identified as victims of child sexual exploitation as part of a national operation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.
According to a release from ICE on Thursday, a central Ohio man was arrested as part of the operation which was called Operation Sunflower.
Mickell E. Close of Quincy, Ohio, was arrested in November on child porn production charges.
HSI officials stated that they rescued three children who Close allegedly videotaped in a bathroom to create still photos and videos that he used to trade on the Internet for other child porn images.
People who live nearby Close in Logan County told 10TV that they knew he was a registered sex offender. Yet, they say they never suspected anything like this.
“I'd never seen anything bad happen out of him, or anything like that, you know,” said neighbor Glenna Shirley. “It tears my heart up. I just pray that the children will be OK”
The Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Logan County Sheriff's Office assisted in the arrest.
HSI and partner law enforcement agencies arrested 245 people during Operation Sunflower in November. During the operation, which continued through Dec. 7, 110 victims were identified in 19 states.
“We're talking about children. That's one of the most difficult things. These are young people who can’t defend themselves. So as parents, and as law enforcement, we really are the first line of defense in protecting children” said Khaalid Walls, ICE spokesman.
According to the news release, five of the victims were under the age of 3; nine were ages 4 to 6; 21 were ages 7 to 9; 11 were ages 10 to 12; 38 were ages 13 to 15; and 15 were ages 16 to 17. Twenty-four of the victims identified are now adults who were victimized as children. Seventy were female and 53 were male.
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