Sex offenders using phone apps to lure teens

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

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You wouldn't let a violent sexual predator into your child's bedroom. But each night, many kids and teenagers do just that when they take their smartphones, tablets and laptops to bed.

In recent weeks, a number of convicted and suspected child rapists in Washington state met the children they targeted either through websites or smartphone apps.

Detectives from Lake Forest Park told KIRO 7 that 21-year old Ron Peterson used an app called Whisper, first to instant message a 12-year-old girl. Police say Peterson then convinced her to send nude photos of herself via the app.

According to investigators, Peterson then raped the girl in a Lynnwood motel after she escaped out of her bedroom window to meet him.

When asked about Whisper, Lake Forest Park Police Chief Stephen Sutton said the app is problematic because it shotguns information out and identifies a certain area you're in, making it easier for sexual predators to target children nearby and know exactly where they can be found.

Twenty-one year old Mitchell Andrew Mills also met young girls through an app called Kik, according to police. Mills was arrested for investigation of sending graphic pictures of himself to a 12-year-old girl in Lakewood and for setting up a meeting with a 15-year-old girl, all through the Kik app on their phones.

Lt. Ron Mead oversees the Washington State Patrol's High Tech Crimes Unit in Olympia. He told KIRO 7 Reporter Amy Clancy "In today's world, the 'stranger-danger' resides within the Internet" and apps.

In April of 2012, Mead's detectives arrested a 35-year-old registered sex offender, Joel Alexander, who met an 11-year-old boy through Facebook. Alexander was arrested when he showed up at an Elma park expecting to have sex with the boy.

Instead, Alexander walked straight into a police sting set up because the boy's mother saw the Facebook messages Alexander was sending her son.

The victim's mother, who did not want to be identified, told KIRO 7, "What if I'd never seen this message? All of my son's innocence would have been lost."

But parents don't always read their children's messages. They don't always know who their children are communicating with. And most don't keep up with technology enough to know what apps and websites are currently popular. Mead told Clancy that is exactly what sex offenders are relying on.

"As technology advances, so too does the criminals' use of technology to commit their crimes," he said.

Mead said that without question more children are victimized because of apps and internet access

“The 16-year-old girl you think you're communicating with might not be that 16-year-old young girl,” he told Clancy. “It may be a convicted sex offender who has every intention of doing harm to your child."

Level three sex offender Brennon Cloud of Lynden is suspected of befriending a 14-year-old Auburn boy last month through X-Box Live. The 22-year-old Cloud has since been charged with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes because police say he befriended the boy hoping the child would introduce him to young girls.

Cloud was arrested when he believed he was meeting a 15-year-old cheerleader, who instead was an undercover detective.

Mead believes parents should monitor their children's electronic devices closely, and if they see anything suspicious, to call police.

Related stories

Oct. 9: Police: Rape suspect used phone app to find victim

Oct. 12: Sex offender uses Xbox to find victims

April 17, 2012: Man accused in Elma child sex sting worked close to kids

April 16, 2012: Elma mother 'grateful' for helping keep sex offender from son

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