• NC law enforcement races to save local kids from growing child porn problem

    By: Brittney Johnson

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE - When a parent concerned about inappropriate messages brought his 15-year-old son's cell phone to the FBI in Charlotte, Special Agent John Letterhos went on a mission to find out who was on the other side.

    "He was a middle school boy, and he thought he was talking to an older female," Letterhos recalled.

    The boy had met her on Instagram and talked to her for months before she asked for naked pictures.

    Letteros discovered "she" was actually 22-year-old Patrick Killen Jr.

    "It's devastating the initial reaction to telling a child, you're a victim. Not only are you a victim, but you're going to be potentially victimized over and over for years to come," he said.

    Letterhos says that's because predators like Killen steal profiles from innocent teens and use them to trick others into sharing sexually explicit images, so they can share them in child porn rings online

    "They trade them like baseball cards," Letterhos explained.

    Investigators say other predators record themselves abusing children and many more download the images.

    It happens more often than you might imagine.

    "I think people would be shocked," said Chris Healy, Assistant Special Agent with Homeland Security.

    Healy says child pornography is such a big problem that his office doubled the size of its forensics lab. They've brought on injured veterans - called heroes - to go through massive piles of data. Their top priority is tracking down people with child porn and access to children.

    "Okay, we have a nursery school teacher here, we have a doctor here, we have a coach," Healy explained.

    Within the last three months, Channel 9 has reported on a youth soccer coach in Charlotte charged with having child porn and a Gaston County man accused of using his Xbox to target boys as young as 9.

    "Every neighborhood, every line of work, they're everywhere. Everywhere you can get a WIFI connection, you could potentially have a predator," said Healy.

    "There is a theme with the age," said Letterhos. "Most of the kids are middle schoolers. They're just getting some independence."

    Investigators walked us through how perpetrators groom victims through sites like Instagram, Kik, and Omegle.

    "It'll take time. It's not so overt where they'll come out and say 'Send me a nude photo.' It'll be, 'How you doin' or 'Oh, what are you playing?" said Healy.

    Investigators say the tip that led them to Killen ultimately helped uncover hundreds of victims across the country - many in Charlotte. Letterhos uses the case to encourage parents to talk to their kids about how to avoid becoming a victim.

    "I'm a parent and I can't imagine having an FBI agent show up at my house and having that conversation with my daughters, or my son, or myself. It's absolutely devastating," he said.

    The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force says the vast majority of computer crime cases in North Carolina are related to child exploitation. The number of cases more than doubled from 2015 to 2017 -topping more than 400 last year.

    CLICK HERE for more resources to keep your child safe online

    Homeland security agents visit local schools to teach parents and students more about how to protect themselves from child predators online through the iGuardian program. Find the story more information on the iGuardian program here: https://www.ice.gov/topics/iGuardians

    Learn more about the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force here: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/cac

    Learn more about the federal government's H.E.R.O Child Rescue Corps program that trains wounded military veterans to fight child exploitation: http://www.herocorps.net/

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