ROGERSVILLE — Imagine the terrible images that went through the mind of Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Deputy James Woods when a 13-year-old Rogersville Middle School student told him this week that she “got into trouble over a 33-year-old man.”
It wasn’t as bad as it initially sounded.
As it turned out, the girl had simply spoken to the man over the phone on multiple occasions after communicating with him in a teenage chat room on the Internet Web site MySpace.
But Sheriff Roger Christian said Thursday it’s a perfect example of the dangers that are lurking out there for children who use the Internet.
Woods was at RMS Tuesday on an unrelated case when the girl approached him and said she’d gotten into trouble over the 33-year-old man. The girl asked him what legally could happen in her circumstance.
When Woods asked her to elaborate on her situation, the girl refused.
Woods immediately took the matter to the school’s assistant principal and counselor, who were unaware of the situation. Those three adults then met with the girl and convinced her to explain what was going on.
“(The girl) stated that she had been speaking to a 33-year-old man on MySpace who said he was a truck driver,” Woods stated in his report. “The male gave his phone number to (the girl) via e-mail. I asked if she gave any personal information, which she said she hadn’t. She had met the male on MySpace chat for teens.”
The girl also stated that her father found out about the phone calls, called the man, and told him not to speak to his daughter again.
The girl said she was then grounded from using the phone, Woods stated in his report.
Woods later interviewed a relative of the girl who stated the girl had spoken to the man from her grandfather’s home as well and may have given the man that address. The relative said the man claimed to be from Alabama and may have used the names Thomas or James.
Based on phone records, it appeared that the girl had made eight calls from her grandfather’s house to a residence in Seminole, Ala. The sheriff’s department now has that phone number.
Christian said the incident is under investigation. But for the communications to be a criminal act, the man would have had to proposition the girl or send her illicit materials.
Even if this incident doesn’t result in criminal charges, Christian said it can still serve as a wake-up call to parents and their children.
“It seems like this is becoming more and more frequent, and it’s time for parents to step up and know more about what their children are doing online — especially in these chat rooms,” Christian said Thursday. “Parents also need to impress upon their children not to give out information of any type on the Internet, but especially not information that can identify them or locate them. Obviously if they’re e-mailing a friend or someone they know, that’s one thing. But when they get online in these chat rooms, you have no way of knowing who’s on the other keyboard.”