Sheriff issues warning after strangers contact 2 children through school-issued laptops

CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. — Strangers are contacting children on their school-issued laptops and a local school district and sheriff are warning parents to keep an eye on their kids as many learn from home.

Deputies told Channel 9′s Dave Faherty there are at least two such cases in Catawba County.

According to the sheriff’s office, the victims are in middle school and elementary school. Deputies said someone contacted the students through the internet.

Every student in the Catawba County school system, from elementary to high school, was provided Chrome books.

Officials said the contact happened through chat rooms associated with an internet gaming site. The suspects provided students with a link inviting them to a Zoom meeting, where attempts were made to exploit them by asking them for inappropriate images and videos.

“We’re attempting to locate and find any gaps in the security and close those up to further protect the kids,” said James Styers, Catawba County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators said the school district monitors students, and acted when it found out about the activity.

“There’s a chat feature on all of these sites and these perpetrators began to chat with the students in question. It was during that chat that the Zoom links were transmitted,” Catawba County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Aaron Turk said.

Authorities believe the suspects in these two cases are operating out of state or possibly out of the country.

“Any device that has internet connectivity could be used by a predator to victimize children,” Turk said.

Heather Dagenhart has two children in the Catawba County Schools district.

She, along with her husband, monitor their children’s online activity, which has increased during the pandemic.

“Constantly monitoring,” Dagenhart said. “Hey, what are you doing? Are you talking with somebody who is you talking to? Do you have a Zoom meeting? No, get off the computer.”

Just days ago, a 14-year-old girl from Davidson County was found in Arkansas after deputies said a stranger abducted her after communicating with her through her school-issued Chromebook.

“While they’re in school, there are firewalls for this,” said Davidson County Sheriff Richie Simmons. “When they’re taking these tablets home, there’s nothing.”