With news that a 12-year-old girl went missing from her Stephenville home after traveling to San Antonio with a man she met online, the E-T reached out to local law enforcement officials to talk about ways parents can keep their children safe from online predators.
Lt. James Gresham with the Stephenville Police Department said communication is key.
“This was a relationship that developed online over a period of time,” Gresham said. “Parents have to be vigilant and know what their kids are doing and who they are talking to online, and that involves being nosey.”
Gresham said the incident prompted him to have another conversation about online safety with his own teenage daughter.
“This was unusual because it was something planned out; the relationship took time to develop,” he said. “It’s important to tell your kids that people might not be who they say they are online, and that they could be led down the wrong path very easily.”
He also says cell phone companies have apps that make it easier for parents to monitor their child’s location and restrict their online access, but keeping up with the changing technology can be daunting.
“Parents should be aware of what apps are available because it changes rapidly and can be challenging to keep up with,” Gresham said.
Since the story broke on Saturday, Gresham said he has been asked by several people about sex trafficking.
“Some people think of sex trafficking as a van pulling up and grabbing a person, but situations like that are very rare,” he said. “Traffickers work by building confidence in their victims and luring them with promises.”
Gresham says investigators are still trying to determine exactly what transpired last weekend, and that the suspect could face additional charges.
He credits Detective Jeremy Lanier for helping to locate the missing girl quickly, despite attempts by the girl and suspect to hide online clues about their whereabouts from police.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Detective Lanier for his work on this case,” Gresham said. “He was able to circumvent the steps they had taken to lock down the device, and honestly, if he wasn’t able to do that, we still might not know where she was.”