CHEHALIS, Wash. — A 16-year-old Washington state teenager is at the center of an FBI investigation involving dozens of victims and 900 nude and explicit photos, according to KCPQ.
Authorities say the teen faces extortion as well as a number of other charges.
The teen goes to W.F. West High School in Chehalis, where some of his alleged victims were also his classmates. Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer told KOMO the teen admitted to extorting more than 100 victims.
An eight-month FBI investigation revealed the suspect posed as someone else online to get nude photos, and then would allegedly extort his victims.
The Chehalis School District issued a statement to KOMO that indicates the school district first received a complaint last year but was instructed to not take any action for fear of interfering with the investigation.
"A year ago, a Chehalis school administrator was contacted by a parent whose child was victimized online. The parent had notified law enforcement. A few weeks later, the FBI and local law enforcement met with school officials informing the district that an investigation was underway here because some WF West students had been victims. Last spring, the FBI reported to the district that a WF West student was the suspected perpetrator. The FBI directed the district to take no action, so as not to interfere with the investigation. We followed the FBI request."
The suspect was arrested on charges of first-degree possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, first-degree dealing in depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and second-degree extortion. Authorities say he will likely be tried as an adult.
In a statement, Superintendent Ed Rothlin told KCPQ:
"The Chehalis School District does not encourage misuse of social media or this type of behavior. In fact, it is part of our curriculum to teach the opposite -- how to be safe online and how to avoid embarrassing and/or potential illegal online activity."
"I think the parents don't pay attention enough"
It’s the talk of the small town, where it’s also leaving parents wondering how to deal with kids and the internet in the age of social media.
“It was surprising,” says Chehalis parent Chad Sandstrom.
Sandstrom's kids are home-schooled but they play sports at W.F. West High School. He says his children don’t have smartphones because of all the temptations online.
“With Snapchat and everything– when we were kids we didn’t have all that.”
Sandstrom says he talks with his kids about what to share online.
"Sometimes I think kids have too much freedom," says Sandstrom. "I think the parents don't pay attention enough and I think they should be more involved with what kids do online."
Elizabeth, who didn't want us to use her last name, has two teens at W.F. West High School. She says it's critical that parents know what their kids are doing and that kids know the consequences of their actions, especially sharing personal information and photos.
"I've had to have some conversations with my children about how to handle things," says Elizabeth. "And they have a lot of access that's hard to watch 24/7, so it is very frightening."