Death of Conn. Teen puts Cyber Crime in Spotlight
"Before, we looked in the treehouse, we looked in the attic," said Sgt. Andrew Russell of the Connecticut State Police computer crimes unit. "Now, the first question is, `Is there a computer in the house?"'
Church leaders in Danbury are struggling to accept the two sides of Christina Long, a popular parochial school cheerleader who died last weekend in what police say was a sex crime made possible by the Internet.
Long, 13, was a good student, an altar girl - and an Internet surfer with provocative screen names that police say led her to sexual encounters with partners she met in chat rooms.
"It seems impossible to imagine, much less to reconcile," the Rev. Albert Audette, pastor at St. Peter's Church, said after a memorial service Tuesday at the church school. "People make decisions we can't fathom."
Police say Long was strangled by a 25-year-old restaurant worker she met on the Internet. Her body was found early Monday in a remote ravine in Greenwich.
Saul Dos Reis Jr., a Brazilian national living in Greenwich, has been charged with using an interstate facility - the Internet - to entice a minor for sexual activity.
Dos Reis has not been charged with murder, but U.S. Attorney John Danaher III said Monday that Dos Reis had confessed to killing Long.
The technology of cyberspace - chat rooms and instant messaging - has reshaped law enforcement when a child is missing, Russell said.
"The people who are trying to prey on young girls, they're usually pretty tech-savvy," said Tina Schwartz, a spokeswoman for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "They know where to go."
Pedophiles and others who persuade youngsters to volunteer photos and other personal information engage in a "grooming process," Schwartz said.
"They try to single out kids who are lonely," she said. "But it's not always the loners out there."
A Youth Internet Safety Survey in 2000 found that one of five youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the previous year.
The survey by the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire collected information in telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,501 youngsters who used the Internet at least once a month for six months.
Spokeswoman Kimberly Mitchell said the dangers are heightened by a combination of youthful curiosity and computer know-how.
"When you're a teen-ager, you're kind of experimenting with who you are," she said. "When you're a kid, you're the first to embrace new technology."
Russell blamed the easy availability of child pornography and exploitation of children for Internet crime.
"It happens more frequently than society wants to admit," he said. "The stereotype of the man in a black coat with a grizzled beard hanging out in a school yard isn't true anymore. It runs the full gamut of men 17 to 79 years old. It can be anybody."
Detective James McLaughlin in Keene, N.H., whose department is a leader in Internet sex crimes investigations, said his office has arrested 270 offenders in 43 states and 15 countries since 1997.
In 1996, two-thirds of leads went nowhere, he said. In the last two years, he said all police agencies help investigate when asked.
"You have to lose track of the venue issue," McLaughlin said. "Canada, Georgia, Holland, Norway - they fly internationally to victimize children."
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