2 arrested after Sea-Tac passenger sees texts about child sexual exploitation

By: KIRO 7 News Staff , Linzi Sheldon , Kevin McCarty

Updated:

Seattle police are crediting the bold actions of a Seattle preschool teacher on a flight for catching a man officers say was texting about plans to sexually exploit children.

The Southwest Airlines flight left Monday morning from Seattle to San Jose.

Capt. Mike Edwards, commander of the Seattle Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, said the woman was seated near a man and noticed texts on his oversized phone in large font.

“Since she saw a reference to children, issues of harm with those children, that got her alerted fully that there’s something going on here, something bad,” he said.

He said the texts were about plans to sexually exploit children.

“She took a really very heroic step, frankly,” he said, “to be sitting next to a person engaging in this behavior… she took her phone and took pictures of that screen.”

Edwards said the woman alerted flight crew and police. Once they landed in San Jose, police arrested the man, whom they identified as Michael Kellar, 56.

Edwards told KIRO 7 that police tracked Kellar’s messages to a woman he met through an online dating site a year ago and started a relationship with, 50-year-old Gail Burnworth. Edwards said both live in the Tacoma area.

San Jose police identified two children, ages 5 and 7, as the victims.

According to federal charging documents, Burnworth plotted to sexually abuse two children she babysat.

Cooperating with Kellar, Burnworth allegedly agreed to provide graphic pictures and videos of her molesting the two, after drugging them with Benadryl, then send the images by cellphone to Kellar.

According to court documents released during her appearance in a federal courtroom in Tacoma Monday, Burnworth admitted she was planning to give Kellar access to the children so he could abuse them, as well as confessing that she had already supplied Kellar with some videos of her molesting the two.

Edwards says this is a message for everyone to say something or do something if they see something that isn't quite right, like the preschool teacher did on this flight.

“Had she not done any of that, these kids would have been horribly, horribly brutalized,” he said.

Kellar was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail on investigation of two counts of felony attempted child molestation and two counts of felony solicitation of a sex crime.

Burnworth was booked into the Pierce County Jail on investigation of felony sexual exploitation of a minor, first-degree felony rape of a child, and felony dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

The case is now at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. They are consulting with the U.S. Attorney's Office to determine if any federal charges would be appropriate.

This remains an active investigation.

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