A teenager held in captivity since early November was found Wednesday in the Missouri home of a 41-year-old man whom she had met online.
The story is a chilling reminder to parents and teens that people encountered online are not always who they purport to be. Child safety experts advise parents to speak bluntly with children about the risks of becoming involved with strangers online.
Police say Christopher Schroeder of Marthasville, Mo., coaxed the 15-year-old girl from her Cleveland home on Nov. 8 and transported her 600 miles away.
Over the course of a month, Mr. Schroeder destroyed the victim’s mobile phone then had had sex with her multiple times, according to law enforcement officials. He ordered her to cut her hair, lose weight, and change her name, according to a criminal complaint.
He was charged with transporting a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity, appearing Wednesday in US District Court in Missouri. Other federal charges are pending.
Police said the victim was last seen outside her family home in a suburb of Cleveland before she was later found outside of St. Louis. The two allegedly met online, where she told Schroeder she did not like her living situation, something she also told her friends in Ohio, according to police.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Schroeder knew the victim’s age when he offered to help her.
Once back at his home, Schroeder cut her off from the outside world, police said. The victim later told police she was afraid to leave because Schroeder owns guns.
When arrested, he told the police the girl was there on her own volition and that she told him she was 18.
An FBI report called “A Parent’s Guide To Internet Safety” said the same technological progressions that allow for easier access to knowledge also make children more vulnerable to “exploitation and harm by computer-sex offenders.”
The agency created a guide using previous investigations involving children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Child Safety has also released online support for parents of teenagers.
The advice entails using blunt conversation with children about the dangers of online sex offenders as well as strict monitoring of teenage Internet and mobile phone use.
“Computer-sex offenders almost always meet potential victims via chat rooms,” it reads. “After meeting a child on-line, they will continue to communicate electronically often via e-mail.”
This report contains material from The Associated Press.