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Contact: John Caher, Press Office
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For immediate release: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007

Kingston Incident Highlights Need for Internet Vigilance

The recent incident involving a 16-year-old Kingston girl who ran away to Puerto Rico with a man she met on MySpace underscores the need for parents to carefully monitor their childrens’ on-line activities, according to Denise E. O’Donnell, commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and assistant secretary to the governor for criminal justice.

“It is imperative that parents teach their children the ‘4 R’s’ of Internet safety,” O’Donnell said. “They are: recognize techniques used by online predators to deceive their victims; refuse requests for personal information; respond assertively if you are ever in an uncomfortable situation while online by logging off; and report, to law enforcement authorities, any suspicious or dangerous contact that makes you uncomfortable.”

O’Donnell praised the “textbook” collaboration between the New York State Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse, the Puerto Rico Clearinghouse and the Kingston Police Department that resulted in the safe and prompt return last week of a girl who fled with a man she met on the Internet.

“Law enforcement works best when it works together,” O’Donnell said. “In this case, local, state and Puerto Rican authorities worked collaboratively to bring this girl home safely. They did a great job, and should be commended.”

Officials believe the girl was picked up at Kingston High School on Monday, Oct. 29 by a man she first encountered on MySpace, a social networking service. A preliminary investigation by Kingston Police suggested the girl had run off with a man who had posted pictures of himself on MySpace in which he was carrying firearms and displaying what appeared to be gang insignia.

The staff of the New York State Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse (MECC), which had detected the missing child report through routine monitoring, immediately offered assistance, activated an alert on the DCJS website and distributed posters to police agencies and broadcasters, as well as to all Thruway toll barriers and service areas. Meanwhile, the Kingston Police uncovered evidence suggesting the girl and man had traveled to Puerto Rico.

Within an hour, MECC contacted the Puerto Rico Clearinghouse, which located the girl. The Puerto Rico Clearinghouse escorted the girl to the airport and made sure that she boarded safely, with a ticket purchased for her by the Kingston Police Benevolent Association. The girl was returned home on Wednesday, Oct. 31, two days after she was reported missing.

“As parents, we have always known the importance of being vigilant in public: we keep our children close, remind them not to talk to strangers and urge them to be cautious and stay on guard,” O’Donnell said. “Now, we must ensure that our children exercise the same caution while they are online in the safety and security of our own homes.”

A survey cited by webwisekids.org shows that 27 percent of teens report that they have talked online about sex with someone they have never met in person, but that only 5 percent of youths who receive a sexual solicitation report the incident to incident to law enforcement, school authorities, their Internet service provider or their parents.

“Our children are being harassed, stalked and exploited while they are online, and they’re keeping it to themselves,” O’Donnell said. “Even smart and savvy teenagers can be duped by clever and devious predators lurking online. That’s why it is so critical that each and every parent educate themselves and empower their children to make good choices every time they go online.”

O’Donnell said there are a host of acronyms that teens – and not surprisingly, online predators – have adopted to cloak their conversations, and most of them have to do with thwarting parents’ attempts to figure out what’s going on. Examples:

  • P911 – Parent Alert
  • KPC – Keeping Parents Clueless
  • PIR – Parent In Room
  • PAW – Parents are Watching

DCJS routinely offers Internet safety presentations – approximately 90 of them in the last two years – to raise awareness of the potential dangers of online activities. Parents, educators and law enforcement may attend one of the listed Internet safety presentations, or schedule one in their community, by contacting the DCJS Missing & Exploited Children Clearinghouse at 1-800-FIND-KID (1-800-346-3543) or via e-mail at missingchildren@dcjs.ny.gov. Upcoming presentations are scheduled for:

  • Nov. 13, 7 p.m. – Tanglewood Elementary School, South Glens Falls
  • Nov. 20, 7 p.m. – Northern Lights LEAH First Baptist Church, Canton
  • Nov. 27, 7 p.m. – General Brown Central School District, Dexter
  • Dec. 13, 6:30 p.m. – Lyndonville Middle-High School, Lyndonville