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U.S. Marshals, Fayetteville Police Department, ATF, Harnett Co. Sheriff’s Investigation Leads to Recovery of Missing Child and Arrest of Violent Offender

For immediate release

Brandon Taylor, Senior Inspector

Eastern District of North Carolina
Fayetteville, NC
(910) 483-0550

Raleigh, NC – The U.S. Marshals Service, in coordination with the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and Fayetteville Police Department, safely recovered a child and mother who had been missing from Fayetteville, NC since 2016.

On Feb.26, 2021, the U.S. Marshals Service in Raleigh was asked by the Fayetteville Police Department to assist in locating a missing child and mother who were victims of previous physical abuse.

The investigation gained momentum when investigators with the Fayetteville Police Department and U.S. Marshals developed information that the missing child and mother were located in Bunnlevel, North Carolina, and may be associated with Joe Smith, 59. On Jan. 19, the ATF charged Joe Smith with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The U.S. Marshals, working with the ATF and Harnett County Sheriff's Office, located and recovered the missing child at a residence located on Lemon Lane in Bunnlevel Jan. 25 and turned the child and her sibling over to the Harnett County Department of Social Services to provide victim assistance. During the recovery of the child, Joe Smith was taken into custody without incident. The Harnett County Sheriff’s Office and ATF executed a search warrant at the residence of recovery and subsequently seized four firearms.

"The culmination of years of following leads and tips resulted in the outcome that we had all hoped for today; the successful recovery of a child who had been missing since December 2016. The U.S. Marshals Service and our investigative partners will not quit, nor be deterred until these children are rescued," said Michael East, U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

“The U.S. Marshals’ safe recovery of a young child who has been missing since 2016 and the arrest of Joe Smith came about as a result of critical assistance from our outstanding state, local, and federal partners in North Carolina and highlights our commitment to locating and recovering endangered missing children,” said Chief Inspector Doug Bell, of the agency’s Investigative Operations Division.

"I am so thankful that the individuals were located safely due to the hard work and perseverance of all of the agencies involved," said Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats. "This is a testament to the professional working relationship between all of these agencies and I am grateful for them. These types of investigations are very complex and require many hours in the field to bring this case to a positive conclusion."

This investigation highlights the dedication and perseverance of every investigator involved, said Gina Hawkins, Chief of the Fayetteville Police Department. "This case would not have been solved without the hard work and combined effort of our local, state, and federal partners. We are truly grateful for their assistance and partnership."

"This search not only recovered numerous firearms from a convicted felon and prohibited individual, but also brought some closure and relief to family and friends of the missing person," said ATF Special Agent in Charge Vince Pallozzi. "These are the outcomes that law enforcement works so hard for."

Agencies involved in this investigation included:

  • Fayetteville Police Department
  • Harnett County Sheriff's Office
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  • North Carolina State Highway Patrol
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
  • Harnett County Department of Social Services
  • United States Marshals Service

The U.S. Marshals Service was given authority to assist state and local law enforcement when requested under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act passed in 2015. Since then, U.S. Marshals have been working jointly with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and their state and local counterparts to recover missing and endangered children.

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at


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