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Male ‘friends’ Kitsap boys on Facebook
Bainbridge Police detectives have investigated the actions of a 29-year-old man who has made contact with more than 50 boys from 12 to 16 years old in Kitsap County – including four Sakai students – by claiming to know mutual friends through the social networking site Facebook.
The department has turned the investigation over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s cyber crimes unit after a Bainbridge mother filed a report when the man attempted to chat while she was logged onto her son’s account.
“Stranger danger is no longer at your front door or in the bushes at the playground,” said Bainbridge Island Police Department Cmdr. Sue Shultz. “It’s on your computer when your 12-year-old is getting friend requests from a 29-year-old man he has never met.”
Bainbridge resident Dee Johnson said her middle school son was allowed to start a Facebook account on the contingency that she had access to his account. It was while she was monitoring it that she was contacted by the man.
“Immediately I had that gut feeling in my stomach telling me something was wrong,” said Johnson. “As I looked, I realized that this man had over 600 Facebook friends, and 95 percent were pre-teen boys. He had already started adding kids from Poulsbo, Bremerton, Port Orchard and Kingston. It made me sick.”
Johnson said other parents whom she has spoken to are reluctant to file a report in fear that their sons may be subject to retaliation. She was able to press the Bainbridge Island School District to issue an alert, but since the man has yet to engage in anything illegal the police are moving with caution and are reluctant to issue a bulletin. Shultz said it does serve as a warning and an example of how easy it is for strangers, or potential predators, to gain access to the lives of children through the Internet.
Shultz said the man appears to be using Facebook to groom for potential contact. He claims to be from Italy, but police haven’t made a positive match on his identification or location.
He initiates contact by requesting to become “friends” and gains access to circles of boys by claiming to know mutual friends.
Johnson’s son rejected the unfamiliar-friend request at first, but when the man used the name of a friend from Bremerton the boy assumed it was a legitimate request. In reality, the man had never met the boy, and has become friends during the last two weeks with some 53 other young boys in the area using the same tactic.
“Through my son’s account, he (the adult) became friends with three other Sakai kids,” said Johnson. “It is emotionally draining to look at all the photos of the little boys’ faces in Bremerton, Poulsbo, Kingston. This man is tricking boys and parents need to be aware so they can warn their kids and stop this from happening.”
Detectives chatted on Facebook with the adult using the Johnson boy’s account, and said the conversations appeared innocent. Johnson said the man would talk about braces and roller hockey, two parts of her son’s life that are evident from a quick glance at his profile. In a conversation with another young boy he extended an invitation to come visit him in Italy, according to the transcript of the conversation obtained by Johnson.
Johnson said she has taken over her son’s page and continued to be “friends” with the man to monitor his behavior and warn others. Johnson said the man isn’t afraid to be aggressive or persistent, in one case trying to persuade a young boy for over a month to accept his request.
Once the community is warned, Johnson said she will remove the contact, and move on.
In this case, it wasn’t until Johnson logged on to her son’s account that she realized this was happening. Although she can view her son’s homepage from her account, she can’t tell who he may be chatting or sending messages with.
“Even with the highest security settings, Facebook allows someone like this man to send a message claiming to be a mutual friend, and gain access to photos and conversations,” said Johnson.
Bainbridge Det. Mike Tovar said its important that parents monitor their children’s activities on Facebook and other social media sites, as kids may feel a false sense of security while chatting in their own homes.
“With technology, people can hover over a photo, find a name or an exact address to pinpoint where the photo was taken,” said Shultz. “Parents have to be diligent.”