JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local, state and federal authorities have rounded up 18 men who the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said solicited who they thought were 13- and 14-year-old girls online. When the men showed up thinking they were meeting the girls for sex, they instead were met by officers with warrants and handcuffs.
Police said many of the men were local, but some traveled from Brunswick, Gainesville or Palm Coast to Jacksonville's Westside thinking they were meeting a girl. They ranged in age from 20 to 63.
"Some realized right away they had been caught," JSO Chief Lendvay said. "Many try to flee. We did not have any that got away from us."
None of the 18 men had previous arrests for sex crimes. In fact, most had no criminal record.
"Which is one of the scary parts when you do an operation like this," Lendvay said. "It kind of gives you the sense that a lot of people that are doing this are operating under the radar. If they didn't find us, they could have found another child."
Operation Savior began in the last week of May and most of the arrests announced Wednesday were made over the weekend and Monday. The operation is ongoing and more arrests are expected.
Investigators said because children are getting more tech savvy, parents need to be smart and watch what their kids are doing online.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Gil Smith suggests parent should:
- Tell your kids never to meet anyone they talk to online
- Tell them people online aren't who they say they are
- Keep computers in common areas
- Know that predators can ask your child for their cell phone number so know what your kids are doing with their phones