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Coronavirus pandemic giving sex predators more access to children, detectives say

Osceola County detectives funnel thousands of tips to law enforcement across Central Florida

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – On Thursday, the I.C.A.C. (Internet Crimes Against Children) task force at the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office announced it had arrested 76-year-old Raymond Woodrow Egan of Kissimmee for Promotion/Production of Child Pornography.

Det. Sgt. Justin Shah, commander of the Central Florida I.C.A.C. task force, said the elderly man was abusing a 12-year-old to make child pornography.

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A tip led detectives to Egan where detectives discovered thousands of pictures and videos of child pornography on his computer, Shah said.

Shah’s task force, through a partnership and a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, receives all of the nationwide and worldwide tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding potential children in danger or potential sex predators in the Central Florida area.

“Sometimes we can have a day where we have maybe 20 tips,” Shah said. “Sometimes there’s a day where we can have 100 tips.”

Shah and his task force examine every single tip and then pass them on to the appropriate police department or sheriff’s office. There are 60 law enforcement agencies under Shah’s Central Florida I.C.A.C. task force.

Tips include adults attempting to or actually making contact with children over social media, downloads of child pornography featuring victims as young as infants, and reports of child sex trafficking.

“We get tips where children are online without their parents knowing creating videos where they are nude,” Shah said. “And they’re sending it out for potentially anyone to view. We’ve had kids self-producing from the age of seven.”

Shah said the number of tips I.C.A.C. has gotten over the past few months has soared.

From March to August, I.C.A.C. received 3,566 tips compared to 2,269 over the same period last year.

Shah said 1,634 tips this summer spawned investigations, compared to 881 over the same period in 2019.

“I believe that because of COVID kids are now at home and a lot more kids are doing online schooling which places them in front of a computer, an electronic device,” Shah said. “And anytime a child has a front of a computer or electronic device and they’re not monitored, they are at a potential risk for being victimized by an online predator.”

Shah’s Central Florida I.C.A.C. task force includes several full and part-time detectives examining tips and hunting down leads, including the arrest of Egan.

Detectives are online, scanning social media, and chatting with suspected sex predators sometimes 24 hours a day.

“I can honestly tell you there’s so much going on that I wish we could do more,” Shah said. “It’s just nonstop.”

Shah’s task force receives around $400,000 per year from the federal government to sift through tips, route them to local law enforcement agencies, replace and upgrade forensic computers and technology, and even assist local agencies in creating their own I.C.A.C. units.

Shah said task force members must follow strict rules when they’re online so as not to entrap a suspect.

“The suspects are bringing themselves to us basically,” Shah said. “Once those tips are sent to us we have no control over who was sending in the tips for what person was actually looking at the material, the child sexual exploitation material. So when we get that, most of the time we don’t even have a suspect, all we have is the exploitation material and possibly a couple leads we need to follow up on.”

I.C.A.C. used to hold quarterly meetings with the 60 local law enforcement agencies to get progress reports and watch where the money was going. Now, those meetings are held virtually according to Shah.

For parents who know they need to do a better job of policing their kids on the internet, Shah recommended starting here.

“Basically they’re on those devices unattended, it’s like leaving your 6-year-old child at a park with no parent or no supervision,” Shah said. “It’s dangerous.”

Shah warned parents to keep kids off social media as long as possible. After that, make sure a child knows who all of those “friends” on social media really are, Shah said.


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