A warning tonight for parents; Internet predators are out there, and they can strike anywhere, at anytime. There are more than 70 million students between the ages of 5 and 17 on the internet and that number grows daily. In Conway, hundreds gathered to listen to the advice of a police officer whose daughter was murdered by a predator she met on the internet.
Today's event was geared towards fifth grade students and older, and the parents and grand parents of pre-teens and teenagers.
Cpl. Rick Woody, Greenbrier Police Department, says, "What we are doing is learning everything we can about Internet safety ourselves. Then we are going out into the classrooms and to the public and trying to teach them everything we know about Internet predators and the ploys they use to get what they want, which is the child."
Officer Woody's daughter Kacie was 13 when she was abducted. The middle school student met her online predator in a Christian chat room. He was 47-year-old man posing as a 17-year-old from California.
Less than 20 hours after she was kidnapped, Kacie was found inside a mini storage building in Conway. She had been shot in the head and her abductor shot himself when law enforcement officers arrived on the scene.
Cpl. Woody says, "15% of eighth graders have met someone in person that they first met on the Internet. That number increases by 25% by the time they get to the tenth grade."
Donna Rountree, pastor of First Christian Church, says, "There is a lot more on the Internet than what you think."
Donna Rountree helped organize this event. She is a member of the organization "PEACE." It's a group of pastors formed together in an effort to bring certain issues to the attention of the community.
Rountree says, "Kids today think the Internet is a private place to talk to their friends, they don't realize it is a huge domain."
As a parent, Tamara Hoelzeman took today's lessons to heart. “We've talked to her [her daughter] before about Internet predators. She has been solicited before on the Internet, but there are quite a few things that I learned here."
Some of the most valuable tips taught today:
Don't put the computer in the kid’s room. Put the computers in a very public place of the house.
Also check to see what kind of information your child may accidentally be giving out to predators through screen names or social network sites like Myspace.
And finally keep an open dialogue with your child, talk to them about this and explain, if they are ever solicited, they can come to you about it.
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