News

Actions

Middle schoolers investigated for child porn

Posted at 10:30 PM, Feb 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-18 22:23:14-05

Highland’s County Sheriff Susan Benton hopes that at the end of their investigation this will be a huge learning lesson for students and parents and not lead to criminal charges.

At this point, Benton said the case was forwarded to the department’s Special Victim’s Unit because of the graphic nature of the images and video found on multiple Lake Placid Middle School student cell phones.

“We now have nine telephones from different students that are being evaluated by our computer forensics unit,” Benton said.  “There were clearly nude pictures of very young, we are talking children between the ages of 12 and 14 here.”

As disturbing as the nude selfie pictures are, Benton said there is an extremely graphic video of a student masturbating.  

That video is why Benton said the department is looking into the possibility that any students were the victims of sexual exploitation and/or child pornography.  Benton said they started their initial investigation on Feb. 10 when a student showed naked pictures they received on their phone to a teacher.  The teacher then took the phone to a school resource officer with the sheriff’s department.  In the case of sexting, the first offense carries a sentence of community service or a fine.  If a student is convicted of sexting three times it is escalated to a felony.

Benton said parents need to police their children’s phones and social media as often as possible.

“The truth of the matter is parents really do need to be checking their children's phone on a regular basis,” Benton said.  

Investigators said the boys and girls involved in the sexting gave their passwords to their phones to allow investigators to determine how many students might have been involved.

Once pornographic images are shared via social media Benton said there is no taking them back.  And, she said it makes these already vulnerable students even more vulnerable to child predators.

“Cause children are actually being tracked and abused by perverts that are out there seeking children,” Benton said.  

Calls to the Highland County School District and the principal of Lake Placid Middle School were not returned.

Benton said the principal has been extremely pro-active in the investigation and held assemblies with each grade level regarding the dangers of sexting.

On the school’s Facebook page they posted a message regarding a meeting with parents on Monday Feb. 22.  That will be held at First Presbyterian-Genesis Center in Lake Placid at 6:30 p.m.