#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | 3 teenagers including 2 from Wexford County charged for part in cyberbullying, sextortion | News

CADILLAC — Two Wexford County juveniles and one Illinois juvenile faced three separate felony offenses involving social media threats, intimidation and sextortion of area high school students.

In a press release by the Michigan State Police, the three suspects are alleged to have created anonymous Instagram accounts and distributed sexually explicit pictures to the victims and to others to humiliate them. This is a form of sextortion.

For those who don’t know, sextortion usually occurs when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material if demands are not met. The demands can include additional sexual images, sexual favors, or money, which can create financial and emotional distress for the victim.

Police said the Wexford County Prosecutor’s Office conducted a review of the MSP investigation and authorized three felony charges for the three juvenile suspects. The charges against each juvenile include distribution of child sexually abusive material, possession of child sexually abusive material and using a computer to commit a crime. The charges stem from incidents alleged to have occurred in September 2020 in Haring Township.

Michigan State Police Seventh District Public Information Officer Lt. Derrick Carroll said the three perpetrators were sending compromising photos of different people and some were not the actual photos of the victim, but they resembled them. He also said the pictures were sent to the victims and other classmates and friends to humiliate them.

He said one of the pictures sent was of a victim and that was what the charges were based on.

The charges are merely accusations and not evidence of guilt. The three juveniles are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Wexford County Prosecutor Corey Wiggins said he can’t say much about the particulars of the case, but the three juveniles met online while playing video games. He also said the two Wexford County juveniles knew of each other, but they didn’t have any connection with the Illinois juvenile until they met online.

He said he doesn’t believe there are any additional local victims, but additional charges in an out-of-state jurisdiction for the Illinois juvenile could be sought. Wiggins said, however, there was nothing that could be tied back to Wexford County.

Carroll also said there is always a possibility of more victims, but at this point, the MSP is not actively seeking more. If, however, someone comes forward the MSP would look into the allegations.

Although the charges are each multiple-year felonies, Wiggins said because they three are being charged as juveniles, the penalties will differ from an adult charged with the same offenses. He said the three juveniles could face detention, probation or a combination of both if they are convicted.

Carroll said regardless of what the outcome is, the charges these three juveniles face are serious. He said if they don’t realize it now they will when they try to get a job or apply for college as this could be on their permanent records

Wiggins also said the process of getting to the point where charges were filed was long and complicated.

“Anytime we deal with technology crimes, the sheer volume of information that is gone through and the number of tech companies that have to cooperate certainly slows down the process,” he said. “We also are dealing with juveniles, but with one being out of state, we also had to get cooperation with out-of-state law enforcement. There were a lot of moving parts.”

He said parents also should make sure they are monitoring their children’s online activity and discussing the potential threats that exist in the digital world.

“I think it is important that parents know what their children are doing online and it is not safe to assume who they befriend online are true friends who have their best interests in mind,” he said.

Carroll said the problem is before there were smartphones police would tell parents to make sure the computers are in a common family area. Now, those smartphones are portable computers that they take with them everywhere.

“You can’t be there all the time. You have to make sure you know the apps your child is using and have your child give you the passwords so you can do random checks,” he said. “You can’t assume everything is OK and that your child is doing everything they are supposed to. A lot of times, parents are blindsided when something like this happens.”rcharmoli@cadillacnews.com

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