John Carroll School Principal Madelyn Ball said Friday that students have reported receiving inappropriate contact through social media from what school officials believe is a sexual predator. Ball said the contacts occurred over the past month and as recently as this past week, involving sexually explicit messages from a sender using the names JP Smith, Brian Pond, JPL42 or MatLax.
Principal Ball said that a total of five female students have come forward since a school assembly Tuesday that included warnings about a sexual predator using those names to contact more than 50 students from St. Paul’s School for Girls in Baltimore through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and/or Vine. “We want [the students] to be safe,” Ball said.
When two John Carroll girls came forward after the Tuesday assembly to say they had received similar contacts, their parents and the Bel Air Police Department were notified immediately, Ball said, and all other parents were notified by email later that day. Three more girls have come forward since, Ball said, one as recently as Thursday.
Ball said that to her knowledge, the individual had made no attempt to meet any of the girls.
Only one of the girls responded to the initial contact, Ball said, and an explicit message in that case was shown to authorities.
Bel Air Police Chief Leo Matrangola said Friday that the message contained a lewd photo, but after a preliminary investigation he did not believe anyone was at risk or that a crime had been committed, noting that the photo was received after the contact had been accepted. Chief Matrangola said his department was not conducting a criminal investigation at this time but was coordinating with Baltimore County Police investigating the incident reported by St. Paul’s School. Matrangola also stressed that young people should be cautious and limit their use of social media.
Baltimore County Police Department spokesperson Elise Armacost said Friday that the Crimes Against Children Unit was investigating complaints involving an unknown suspect who engaged in sexually explicit video chat with two teenaged girls from St. Paul’s School. The girls reported the contact to school authorities who alerted police a week ago Friday. Armacost said they were the only cases confirmed and being investigated at this time, however, she said that the act of sending sexually explicit material was not necessarily a crime. Investigators would consider a number of factors, she said, including whether the suspect was a juvenile or an adult and whether there had been a pattern of harassment. Armacost said that the girls from St. Paul’s School had accepted the chat request, and she stressed the need for greater parental involvement: “Parents need to educate their children about safe social media activity.”
Below is the email from Principal Ball to John Carroll parents:
September 17, 2013
Your children’s safety is always our #1 priority at John Carroll. Our biggest challenge in this area is in social media. Teaching children to communicate safely via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, etc. is an ongoing process here, and I am certain that you are equally concerned at home. We must work together as a team to keep our children safe in the world of social media. For this reason, I must explain to you a situation that occurred recently in our area.
St. Paul’s School for Girls recently discovered that a sexual predator contacted over 50 of their upper-school students. The contacts were on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine. This person called himself J.P. Smith, Brian Pond, JPL42, and MatLax. Fortunately some courageous girls reported the problem to the administration at St. Paul’s. The police were contacted and a full investigation is underway.
Our Dean of Students, Mr. Powell, talked about this incident to the entire student body this morning during an assembly. Consequently two girls came forward to say that this person had also contacted them. We acted responsibly by contacting the police and the parents immediately.
There could be other John Carroll students that have been contacted by this person. Please talk with your children about this tonight and have them check their social media sites to see if any of the screen names above appear. Parents, I highly recommend that you “friend” or “follow” your children. Below is the message we gave to your children today, and we would appreciate it if you would discuss the same message at home tonight:
• Let your parents or an adult at school know if they have been contacted by this person or a suspicious “friend.”
• Do not “friend” anyone you do not know through social media. Do not allow strangers into your social networks.
• Do not post any inappropriate information or photographs on social media venues. If you would not want your grandparents to see it or read it…DON’T POST IT!
• If you have “friended” JP Smith, Brian Pond, JPL42 or MatLax, “unfriend” and block any future communication attempts from him.
• Keep your accounts private. What you say online is public and permanent.
• Limit your time spent on social network.
An addendum about our Social Media Policy has been added to the current Student Handbook. Your child will be receiving a copy of it this week. It will also be posted on our website.
Thank you very much for your support in educating our children about living responsibly in the digital world. As always, you and your family are in my prayers daily.
Below is the press release from Baltimore County Police regarding the incident reported to St. Paul’s School for Girls:
Police Investigate Sexually Explicit Video Chat
Teens, Precinct 3/Franklin, Contacted Using Social Media
Baltimore County, Maryland (September 16, 2013) – The Baltimore County Police Department’s Crimes Against Children Unit is investigating a complaint received Friday regarding an unknown suspect who engaged in sexually explicit video chat with two teenaged girls in Precinct 3/Franklin.
One of the girls interviewed by police said that in the summer of 2012 she accepted a “friend” request, as well as video chat requests from the suspect. (The suspect appears to be a male based on the nature of the comments, but police cannot confirm that the suspect is male.) The second girl said she accepted the request last week. Both told police they had opened and viewed explicit messages and entered chat rooms, where the suspect engaged them in explicit conversation.
The girls reported the matter to St. Paul’s School for Girls, which in turn notified police.
Detectives are trying to identify the suspect — the age of the suspect is unknown — and determine whether a crime has been committed. There is no indication that the suspect made or attempted to make physical contact with the girls.