Dozens of child-exploitation suspects arrested and 17 children recovered in sting spanning eight southern states

A total of 82 individuals were arrested across eight states in the southeast U.S. as part of what authorities are calling Operation Southern Impact III.

According to 11 Alive, 17 children were also found during an investigation that concluded recently after four months.

Much of the attention focused on Georgia, where 31 of the suspects were arrested. Seven of those are accused of traveling to meet a minor for sex.

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Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Debbie Garner said finding “children in the homes of people who are collecting and viewing child pornography” is not uncommon, adding those kids are often victims of abuse.

In a news release confirming the arrests, the GBI explained that investigations in the state were aimed at “those seeking out and distributing the most violent sexual abuse material involving infants and toddlers.”

Other states included in the regional sting were Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

NBC News reported that 11 suspects were arrested in Alabama, six in South Carolina, and six in North Carolina. Specific information from the other states was not immediately available.

“The arrestees ranged in age from 20 to 70,” the GBI news release explained. “Some of their occupations included non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, youth group leader, former high school band director, freelance photographer, construction worker and painter.

Officers and agents across the states involves served a total of 134 search warrant in addition to 215 “knock and talks.”

Among the evidence reportedly collected were 1,613 digital devices — 203 of which were cellphones. Another 861 digital devices were reportedly previewed by authorities during their searches.

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[Featured image: Pixabay]