Authorities in St. Petersburg, Florida are giving the strongest of warnings to parents whose teens use the gaming app ‘Discord’ to play with strangers online. In a stunning development, the Police uncovered a sex-trafficking ring that used the app to lure youngsters away from their home. Once they had the kids, they exploited them in disturbing ways, including sexually battering at least one of them.
The sordid story began last May when a 16-year-old boy was rescued from a dilapidated mobile home in this Florida town when police followed a tip on a different missing boy, a 17-year-old from Louisiana. When they arrived, they were surprised to find both the 17-year-old and the 16-year-old.
When interviewed by investigators, the boy told a truly horrifying story - that he had been kept a prisoner in the squalid residence and had been sexually abused by his four captors.
The teen revealed that he had encountered his captor while on 'Discord' - an online gaming app that allows players to interact with anyone, not just people known to them. “He was told he was going to go to a place that was better,” police Chief Tony Holloway said of that victim.
The Tampa Bay News reports, “When St. Petersburg police arrived at the home on May 9, they found the 17-year-old and a 16-year-old, who Mark Dennis claimed was his son. In fact, police found out he was not the father and that the 16-year-old was reported missing from Marion County nearly a year ago.”
Now, eight months after the shocking rescue, St. Petersburg police have finally arrested not just the four who had kidnapped this boy, but three others as well.
The six initially arrested in the case are: Mark Earl Dennis, 52 and Andrew Barry Dennis, 45, a married couple arrested in Pinellas County; Michael Ray Blasdel, 36, and J.R. Gauthier, 29, who were also arrested in Pinellas; Eleanor Faye McGlamory, 56, arrested in Marion County; and Michael Wayne Schwartz, 51, arrested in Lee County. 34-year-old Curtis Lee Grunwall later turned himself in.
The 17-year-old, whom police do not believe was sexually battered, was returned home. The 16-year-old received treatment for his ordeal and is at a safe location.” the Tampa Bay News reports.
The charges against the various suspects include the following: “The Dennises, Blasdel, and Gauthier all face charges of sexual battery of a child under the age of 16. All six defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit human trafficking and interference with custody. All six are being held in various jails across the state, their bail set at six figures.”
Fox News reports, “Investigators and victim advocates issued a warning Monday, saying that it’s very common for children to be lured by family, family friends or through online apps into human trafficking. Not all stories turn out like this one. Many abducted sex slaves are never found and, sadly, spend the rest of their lives in horrifying circumstances.
“Traffickers and predators are using social media every single day to recruit children,” Natasha Nascimento, founder, and executive director of Redefining Refuge, a Tampa Bay organization that helps young trafficking victims, told FOX 13.
And if your child does not use 'Discord' do NOT be lulled into a false sense of security. Predators stalk children on just about every online gaming app out there.
The only thing we parents can do is to remain vigilant; know what your child is doing online and report anything that seems suspicious. Your child's life may be at stake! This time it was 'Discord' but next time it may be YOUR child's favorite game app!
To learn more about ways to keep your kids and teens safe, watch the video, below.