Exclusive Access: Detectives decipher digital clues to catch online child predators

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — There is a local push to protect children and take down criminals involved with child pornography.

Deputies with the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office told Channel 9 anchor Allison Latos that tips into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have skyrocketed up to 38% from 2019 to 2020.

Authorities said that when those tips link to local cases, they work around the clock to make an arrest.

Many would not think a quiet Concord neighborhood off Piney Church Road would be the center of a child pornography investigation.

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Deputies said that Christopher Clark, 36, downloaded thousands of explicit images involving children from inside one of the residential homes.

Detective Lt. April Samples leads the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office team tasked with difficult investigations.

She said their suspect, Clark, was caught because the platform he used to store child porn turned him in.

He was using a file sharing application that the provider shut down once they saw he was dealing with child porn. He opened another account through that provider the same day

“Luckily, for us, he was uploading pictures of himself from his social media accounts in with these child porn images,” Samples told Latos.

Channel 9 was the at the home when deputies executed a search warrant at Clark’s home, seizing devices from inside.

Clark is accused of using his cellphone to access about 16,000 files of child sex abuse material and 10 hours of video.

“They can’t hide the digital information on their devices,” Det. Houston Rickard said. “This is the make it or break it for these cases.”

Inside the forensic lab, Rickard examines devices to piece together all the evidence.

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Digital fingerprints could include just about anything, including the type of camera, GPS data and information on serial numbers.

“Whether someone stateside is the victim or potentially in another country, is just looking for what’s in the background, looking for electrical outlets,” Rickard said. “Or other things we typically wouldn’t see in the United States.”

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Deputies don’t believe Clark produced any of the child porn images, but they said arrests such as his are crucial for the community.

“Our biggest fear, always, with these people is that they will commit a hands-on offense,” Samples said.

Clark is in the Cabarrus County Jail charged with four counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor.