ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The I-TEAM got a rare look into the dark world of child pornography and sexual predators. We were given the opportunity by the Clay County Sheriff's Office to learn from specially-trained deputies who spend their days searching cyberspace and communities in Clay County for people who hurt children.
Protecting children from sexual predators on social media
We spent weeks with Clay County detectives to learn as much as possible about the techniques sexual predators use to try to lure your children away from home.
Many predators use online social media sites to connect with children. We discovered there is not one site that is more commonly used than the other.
Detectives with Clay’s Cybercrimes Unit tell us predators use any and all social media sites that connect them to another person. These include Facebook, Kik, MeetMe, Instagram, Craigslist, and others.
When they find someone who sounds or appears to be young, they "groom them" to gain their trust and to learn as much as possible about the child to arrange a meeting for sex. Investigators said the process can take weeks or even months.
Grandmother saves 16-year-old granddaughter
A local grandmother told us she inadvertently discovered her 16-year-old granddaughter had been talking for months with a Pennsylvania man who turned out to be 27 years old.
We are not naming the grandmother to protect her granddaughter's identity, but she tells us she was tipped off about the relationship when she discovered her granddaughter was using a lot of cellphone data.
"Out of 9,500 minutes, she had used 6,100," said the grandmother.
The teen’s family then looked at text messages the two had exchanged. They are too graphic for us to print, but they involved discussion of what the man wanted to do sexually when he met the 16-year-old.
"She was sending nude pictures to him and he was sending nude pictures to her," said the girl’s grandmother. "I was shocked. It's unbelievable."
According to the police report, the teen met the man on the social networking site MeetMe.
The teen reportedly told the man -- later identified as Nickers Beauchamps -- where she lived and what school she attended in Clay County. Even though Beauchamps was living in Pennsylvania, the teen’s grandmother said she believes it was just a matter of time before he traveled to Clay County to meet her.
She described to us what she told her granddaughter, who at first seemed unaware of the potential danger.
"This guy could have kidnapped you, he could've taken you somewhere and raped you. He could have killed you and we would never have known, because we didn't even know the conversation you were having with him," the grandmother said.
The grandmother wanted to share her family's story with the hopes it would prevent the same thing from happening to another child. She was surprised how seemingly easy it was for Beauchamps to convince her granddaughter to give so much personal information to a man she had never met.
"You want to trust your kids, you think they are going to do the right thing and you hope they will listen to you and do everything that you instill in them, but those predators, they know how to work on their minds and they can change their minds in a matter of seconds," said the teen's grandmother.
Beauchamps was arrested and then recently convicted in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.
Clay County deputies watching online
Michael McNeil, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who was arrested two months ago, is accused of traveling from Jacksonville to Orange Park to meet with a man who he thought was the uncle of a 12-year-old girl. Detectives said he made the trip with the intent to have sex with the child.
Sgt. Chris Garrison, with Clay County’s Cybercrimes Unit, posed as the "uncle" on social media where he said he started a conversation with McNeil.
"He was very anxious, he was very aggressive, he made it clear what he wanted and he was very determined to engage in sex with a young girl," said Garrison.
When McNeil showed up for the meeting outside an Orange Park coffee shop, Garrison and other law enforcement agencies were there to arrest him.
In general, Garrison said parents should know that predators are looking for vulnerable kids.
Warning signs your teen could be in trouble
Sgt. Chris Garrison said there are steps parents can take to make sure their child has not been targeted by a predator.
- Audit your child's technology
- Read all their text messages
- Monitor who they are communicating with on social media
- Make sure you have their passwords, so you can access their accounts whenever you want
- Check their data plan; a lot of usage could be a clue something is wrong
- Make sure their usernames do not reveal personal information, like their names, part of an address or their age
The Clay County Cybercrimes Unit frequently receives tips about child pornography from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The detectives also work with a task force, Internet Crimes Against Children, which consists of several law enforcement agencies in Northeast Florida, including Homeland Security.
Many of the cases the Cybercrimes Unit investigates involve images or videos of children as young as infants being sexually exploited. The images are circulated online, shared and downloaded.
Auston Montgomery, a 27-year-old Orange Park man, was arrested earlier this month, accused of downloading more than 100 images of child pornography. When the I-TEAM followed detectives and agents with Homeland Security to the home where he was living, we were surprised to learn he has two children.
The home was decorated for Halloween, there was a trampoline in the side yard. We tried to interview him as he was being walked to a patrol car, but he did not comment about the charges against him.
A few weeks later, SWAT served a search warrant at a home inside Orange Park Country Club. An elderly couple and their adult son live there.
Investigators received a tip that child pornography had been viewed by someone inside the home. After interviewing the son, John Mossman was arrested and is charged with possession of child pornography.
Sgt. Chris Garrison said he hopes the arrests will send a clear message to anyone who even thinks about downloading child pornography: "We will find you, we will arrest you, and you will go to prison."
Learn more about how offenders use social media
The FBI and the Duval County Public School district's Parents Academy have partnered to offer classes for parents and guardians interested in learning more about how social media apps are being used to target local kids.
- Oct. 30: New Berlin Elementary School, 3613 New Berlin Rd, 5:30 p.m.-7p.m.
- Nov. 13: Mandarin Middle School, 5100 Hood Rd, 5:30 p.m.-7p.m.
- Dec.11: Bartram Springs Elementary School, 14799 Bartram Springs Pkwy, 5:30 p.m.-7p.m.
Clay County parents should ask the school's resource officer about presentations the Sheriff’s Office makes to parents and students regarding the dangers of predators preying on children through social media and apps.
In the last five years, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has given more than 300 presentations to help educate kids and their parents.