OKLAHOMA CITY - An 8-year-old girl receiving pornographic pictures and videos from a stranger on a popular social messaging application; the person trying to get nude photos of the girl in return. A 31-year-old man messaging with who he believed were two underage teen girls, planning to meet at a mall parking lot and bring the teens to his northwest side home for sex.
One case seemingly ending in a dead end; the reach of law enforcement unable to extend beyond the country's borders to identify and charge a suspect. The other, an arrest of a metro high school teacher. Two recent cases with two separate outcomes that highlight the dangers internet connectivity poses for children, the extent child sex predators will go and the difficulties law enforcement faces in combating a problem that grows each year.
"We are seeing some of the younger children get preyed on more and more," said Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Jordan Solorzano. "Just as the devices become more accessible, more children have them."
Solorzano, who specifically works on internet child sex crimes, said the OSBI fielded more than 1,700 reports of child exploitation in 2017; the year before, more than 1,100.
The OSBI is part of the national Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program. Administered through the U.S. Department of Justice, the program is made up of 61 task forces across the country and helps state and local law enforcement combat technology-related child sexual exploitation and internet crimes. According to federal data, the program conducted more than 61,000 investigations in 2016 that resulted in more than 9,300 arrests nationally.
"And, it goes up every year," Solorzano said. "Parents are the front lines of defense when it comes to things like this."
As the number of online predators and victims continues to grow, law enforcement said the ages of the victims continues to get younger and younger. In some cases, children as young as elementary school-age get caught up in online child exploitation, even sending lewd photos to strangers on the other end of a social messaging app.
A recent Oklahoma City police investigation looked into the case of the 8-year-old girl who had been messaging the person using the social messaging app, Kik, until the girl's father discovered conversations and reported it last year. Court documents detail a number of sexually explicit requests the unknown user made of the girl, asking for nude photos, and sending photos and pictures of people having sex. Oklahoma City police declined to discuss the case but said the investigation lead detectives to believe the suspect was likely overseas and out of the reach of the law.
"They are local, and they are international. We have found both," Solorzano said. "Some of the international people may feel they have anonymity because they are overseas, but we are seeing our children getting victimized by people here locally.”
News 4 spoke with Solorzano days before OSBI agents conducted a bust stemming from an Arizona investigation that began late last month. The Pinal County, Arizona sheriff's office contacted the OSBI on February 23 after a detective there, using an online chatting website and posing as a 14-year-old girl, was contacted by someone claiming to be an adult male and a band teacher in Oklahoma, according to court records.
An OSBI agent, posing as a 13-year-old, joined a group conversation with the Pinal County sheriff's detective and the suspect, who "expressed interest in having intercourse and oral sex with both females," and wanted pornographic and non-pornographic pictures from both, according to court documents.
In other explicit exchanges detailed in a probable cause affidavit, the suspect, later identified as 31-year-old Jason Ott of Oklahoma City and a band teacher at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, said on at least one occasion "Gotta (sic) be careful all the kids are around."
After the Arizona detective said "she" would be in Oklahoma during spring break last week, Ott said March 8 would be best "because he could create a fake doctor appointment to get away from school" and he would meet the teens around noon at Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City. Court records said the plan was for Ott to take the girls back to his house, have sex and then bring the girls back to the mall.
However, OSBI agents were waiting and arrested Ott. When asked why he was there, court records show Ott said "Bad decisions."
In that case, police officers were posing as children. But, law enforcement and tech experts said parents are on the front line when it comes to monitoring what their children are doing online.
"Educating yourself as to what your children are interested in and just having those lines of communication open, because you don’t want to make your children more afraid of you than they are of the predator," Solorzano said. "Establish the common language. A lot of kids have different names for different types of things."
"The first solution, right there, is really low-tech," said Patrick Allmond, an expert on the ins and outs of social media who runs an Oklahoma City marketing firm. "Communicating with our kids up front before we give them a phone, saying, 'Hey, this is a privilege, this is a responsibility and here are some of the rules that go along with that.'"
In addition to having good communication with your children and setting expectations, Allmond said parents should audit their children's smart devices (phones, tablets) on a daily or weekly basis. That means combing the device, its apps and folders for what your children are up to and who they may be talking to.
"I can pick this phone up at any time, and that there are no secrets. That’s a big one," he said. "A lot of what happens on these platforms is the initial contact, the person saying, 'Hey, we're going to do this on the down-low, it's going to be a secret, you don't have to tell mom or dad.'"