Police: We are overwhelmed by online child predators

(WSPA) — Specially trained South Carolina investigators said they have expanded their efforts to track down and arrest internet predators who peddle child pornography or lure children into dangerous situations through clandestine internet encounters.

Despite the growing number of law enforcement resources those officers said they remain overwhelmed by the sheer number of crimes.

“There’s so much of this going on out there we could use 10 more investigators,” said Sgt. Ben Ford, a Mauldin Police officer assigned to the SC Attorney General’s task force on Internet Crimes Against Children.

An FBI agent specializing in similar crimes said there are 100 active cases in Greenville County.  A Travelers Rest police captain on the task force said, “We are overwhelmed.”

In July, Ford worked a Mauldin case that ended with two people dead.

On the morning of Friday July 17th, Mauldin police searched a home for child pornography.  Ford said his officers were interested in two brothers, Adam and Gabriel Norrell.  Ford said one of the brothers confessed to having images on an electronic device and police confiscated several devices from inside the home.

That night, police were downloading the contents of a seized cell phone and planned to let the computer continue running overnight.  They went home.  Hours later, around 11pm, the Norrell brothers were dead in what police called a murder-suicide.

“We were going to hold them accountable for committing a crime regardless but they weren’t ready to be held accountable,” Ford said.

That shooting closed one case, but on that same day, the Attorney General announced the arrest of two other people charged with internet crimes against children.

Spartanburg County deputies arrested Carol Scott West on 10 counts of Sexual Exploitation of a minor, second degree and 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, third degree.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s office arrested Danny Wayne Long, of Piedmond, one two charges including Criminal Solicitation of a minor and dissemination of obscene material.  Investigators said Long tried to solicit sex from someone he believed to be a minor.  He’d already been convicted of similar charges in 2010.

The Attorney General’s office announced a dozen child porn arrests in July.  They announced 5 in the first week of August.

Attorney General Alan Wilson said his task force keeps growing and has doubled in size in just the last two years but there is still more crime than his investigators can tackle at once.

“We find the more success we have, the more we uncover, the more resources and agencies we need in the process,” Wilson said.

According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 15 year old girls are the most common targets but boys and girls of any age can become victims of internet crime.

The fastest growing new technique is called “Sextortion”.

In those cases, an adult posing as someone much younger befriends a child on social media.  The predator may send a picture, usually it’s fake.  Then they ask the child to send one back.  At that point your child’s picture may be relatively innocent, like a picture in their underwear.

That’s when the predator begins applying pressure.  The criminal may threaten the child, saying he’d share the picture with everyone at school or church or with the parents.  In exchange for keeping the secret, children are lured into sending more and more explicit pictures.  Once those pictures go on the internet, they’re online forever.

“It’s frustrating that we deal with it every single day and we don’t feel like we’re making a difference,” Ford said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said it had reviewed more than 147 million pornographic images online and had identified more than 9,600 child victims.

Their “NetSmartz” campaign has detailed advice for educating parents, for having difficult conversations with kids about internet dangers and information about how to spot a problem.

You can find the information for parents here.

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