May 29, 2015 - 7:30 PM
VERNON - The name on the Facebook friend request was an unfamiliar one, and this particular Vernon teen might have ignored it, except for the mutual friend they had in common. A tap on her cell phone and just like that, they became friends. It wasn’t until she got home and checked her messages that red flags began popping up like Facebook notifications.
He’d already started messaging her, and she had no idea who he was.
“He said he would like to be friends or more in time,” 17-year-old Kelsey (not her real name) says. “He said he was a great listener and friend to lean on.”
He mentioned liking pot because “it’s good in so many ways” and asked if she smoked too. He said he was 36 years old.
“It was just really weird and gross, and kind of creepy,” Kelsey says. “I said... you look the same age as my dad. You’re a pedophile.’”
We don’t know for sure what his intentions were, and we never will, because that’s when she deleted him.
“I’m pretty good at standing up for myself and speaking my mind,” she says, adding the mutual friend had no idea who he was either. “If I was younger though, it might have been a different story.”
We’ve seen how the story can go under different circumstances. Vernon man David Willerth lured 16 known victims, some as young as 12, on Facebook under the guise of a modelling agent. Connor Dee extorted nude photos from girls he found on social media sites. B.C.’s Integrated Child Exploitation Unit says the strangers of 20 years ago — the ones who loitered at parks and public pools — have migrated online. Those cyber-stalkers tend to start off conversations with prospective victims politely and what happens next goes one of two ways: either the child blocks them and tells their parents, or they enter into a dangerous dialogue.
After Kelsey blocked her stranger, she told her dad knowing, she could trust him, that he wouldn’t get mad at her for friending strangers or for not having her privacy settings locked down. He looked at the man’s profile for himself and it didn’t take long before he noticed a similarity on the list of Facebook friends: They were all young girls.
“I didn’t want to take any chances, which is why I contacted the RCMP the next day,” he says. “I think a lot of parents would hesitate; some based off of not wanting to see their kids dragged through the courts, some thinking police wouldn’t do anything, while others might be dismissive.”
As it turns out, this wasn’t the first allegation. Police in another B.C. community confirmed there is an ongoing investigation based on similar allegations, but wouldn’t get into specifics to protect the integrity of the case. At their suggestion, Infonews.ca has removed key details from this story—his name and location—to avoid damaging the investigation.
Kelsey and her dad don’t know what will happen next with the police investigation, but they’ve done their part, and hope others will too.
“I hope parents will read this and understand it’s an extremely common thing and a good portion of kids are not reporting it,” her dad says. “Monitor their activity and be better communicators so they’ll be comfortable and open with you.”
Kelsey says it’s not the first time she, or someone she knows, has received a friend request from a stranger and hopes her story reaches other girls and encourages them to use common sense.
“Do your research, just think before you do things. When someone messages something like that you should think about it and make sure you know exactly what’s going on,” she says.
Anonymous reports can also be made to Cybertip.ca, Canada's tipline for child sexual exploitation.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015