A child exploitation/human trafficking sting conducted by the Columbia Police Department led to suspects from Bay Springs, Hattiesburg, Petal, and Laurel being cited, along with six others.
On January 15 and 16, the Columbia Police Department conducted a sting operation named “Operation Sparrow,” per a press release from the Columbia Police Department.
Organizations that aided in the operation include FREE International, KlaasKids, Called 2 Rescue, Anonymity Rescue, Raven Cell, Changed Unchained and Sports World Against Trafficking.
The department also partnered with many organizations and was also assisted by the MS Attorney General’s Office Human Trafficking Division, MS Department of Corrections, and US Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Taskforce.
Ledarious Thornton, 25, of Laurel, was cited and released for Sexually Oriented Materials: Dissemination to Persons Under 18, along with other charges that are pending further investigation.
Mason Parker, 28, of Bay Springs was cited on Enticement of a Child to Meet for Sexual Purposes. His bond was set at $25,000.
Harry Brister, 28, of Hattiesburg was cited on Enticement of a Child to Meet for Sexual Purposes. His bond was set at $25,000.
Kevin Korndorffer, 20, of Petal was cited on Enticement of a Child to Meet for Sexual Purposes. His bond was set at $25,000.
Operation Sparrow’s purpose was to interdict those who had intentions of meeting a child for sexual purposes. According to the press release, the element of the operation was a success, however, they were reserving some comments at the time due to the sensitive nature of the investigation and for the safety of the victims.
“I want to be careful how I answer, but as transparent as I can be,” said Columbia Police Chief Michael Kelly on how they cited the suspects. “Over a month ago, officers who are specifically trained to interdict this type of behavior would pose on social media sites as either a 14 or 15-year-old child. The Justice Department gives us the rules that we play by. It is not entrapment. There is a list of qualifiers that must take place before we can open a case. One of the qualifiers is that our undercover officers never bring up sex. Our undercover officers insure the person that they are talking to knows that they are juvenile by saying several times during the conversation that they are 14 or 15-years-old.”
In total, 10 arrests were made with multiple suspects who are under further investigation with criminal charges pending.
Chief Kelly spoke on the importance of guarding children’s safety at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“When we think about human trafficking, so many times we think about what we see in the movies. A child playing on the playground or a teenager going out to the store, and a suspicious van drives up and an individual puts a bag over the person’s head, kidnaps them, and drives off. That’s in the movies. Parents, let me tell you how sick individuals are preying on your kids. They are doing it in their bedrooms at night using that device that you pay for monthly. You are giving traffickers access to your kids when you don’t monitor what they are doing online on their cell phones,” said Chief Kelly.
“These predators find children on social media networks like Instagram and TikTok. They start a relationship with them online, and for weeks, they coerce these children to get alone by themselves and meet. It is time we educate our communities on the dangers that are out there in the online community. Parents, please monitor what your children are doing online. It is vital to their safety. You have to know what your kids are doing on social media sites. That’s where the predators lay. We cannot stress that enough,” explained Chief Kelly.