Sextortion: The Human Cost
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Online bullies can be bold.
You know that, and maybe you’ve even warned your kids about it. But have you heard about a growing problem called sextortion?
More families than you realize are dealing with it. Some right here in Mississippi.
Given the sensitive nature of the crime, not everyone is willing to speak up. One family is, though. And hoping you’ll listen closely.
Walker Montgomery turned 16 on November 1. The last day of that month was a normal one for his family. After school, Walker worked out in the family barn while his dad and brother hunted. They had family dinner as usual.
His mom said prayers with he and his younger brother before bed. The next part of this story is one his dad, Brian Montgomery, has had to piece together since that day.
“Around midnight, Walker received a message through Instagram from somebody he didn’t know,” described Brian.
The conversation started off innocent enough. On the other end of the chat, a girl around Walker’s age... he thought.
The stranger even referenced mutual friends. But it eventually took a different turn with a request for a video chat through Instagram.
“This sexual encounter occurs,” says his dad. “And Walker didn’t know it, but they were recording this on their side with another device. So, Walker didn’t know. He had no idea that he was being recorded.”
They told him they’d release it if he didn’t pay $1,000.
“They immediately went to, We’re going to destroy your life,” explained Brian. “Your life is over. Everybody loves is going to disown you.
“The mountain was built immediately in front of Walker. They were continually saying, We need the money. We need the money. This will stop if you get us the money. ‘I don’t have any money,’ is what Walker’s telling him. ‘I live in the country. I live in the middle of nowhere. Just leave me alone, please.’”
Phone records show it was the first time Walker ever interacted with the stranger’s profile. But over the course of two hours, it would be his last.
His fathers says that the strangers then started sending Walker screenshots that appeared to show them sending the video to Walker’s friends.
He begged them to stop. The last contact it looked like they shared it with? His mom.
“They’d never sent any of those messages as far as we know,” his father says. “They’re making it look like it.”
“Then after that, [Walker] responds with, ‘I’m just going to kill myself.’ And just as heartless as you can imagine, they said... Well, go ahead, because you’re already dead anyway,” said Montgomery. “[Walker then] went in the safe, got my hand gun and went back upstairs,” Brian described. “And at some point during that time... he took his own life.”
They found him the next morning.
As you might imagine, there were a lot of questions. His dad knew where the answers would probably lie.
“The answer is gonna be in the phone,” he recalls saying. “I mean, it’s got to be.”
Waiting for those answers, they grieved all through the Christmas season with their faith guiding them. The case was initially handled by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.
“At the same time, the Starkville Police Department understood there were several kids in Starkville that had been victimized for this as well within the last six, eight months,” said Brian.
And eventually, the FBI got involved.
“I’m not exactly sure who nailed it down at some point,” detailed Brian. “But it originated from the warrant they sent to Instagram that says, ‘Okay, the IP address of this person is here.’ I mean, literally, they know what residence these people are at. We know that it came from Nigeria. We know that the vast majority of these things that are happening, this particular scheme, is originating out of Nigeria.”
Through this loss, Brian Montgomery is finding a new mission of sharing Walker’s story in hopes that other families hear it and make a big change, potentially saving their child’s life.
“I want to make sure that the pain we’ve suffered amounts to somebody else’s gain,” noted Brian. “That’s the goal.”
FBI Jackson Field Office Special Agent in Charge Jermicha Fomby can’t talk specifics of any case, but he did want to sit down to share with you these cases are increasingly common.
“The first half of 2022, there was almost 10 times as many incidents reported to us as there were in the same period of 2021, totaling more than 7,000 reported incidents with over 3,000 victims,” said Fomby.
They’ve recently focused on awareness because there are challenges in investigating and prosecuting these criminals.
“The majority of the offenders, these bad actors, are overseas. They mostly hail from West Africa, as well as Southeast Asia,” explained Fomby. “And these things are happening online. So, to be able to track down the IP addresses, to go through the whole judicial process of indictments plus extradition, and then location of the bad actors, it becomes a challenge for us.”
So, what is the advice from a law enforcement perspective? Do you ever pay the money?
“We would never advise parents or victims to pay the money,” he said. “Because what happens is that once you pay the money, they’re going to keep looking at ways to extort you to solicit or illicit situations that you give more money out, and that becomes a challenge. So it doesn’t resolve the issue. It just empties your bank account into something that is not prevented from from reoccurring.”
Brian Montgomery isn’t an official, but he is a dad and this is what he’d change if he could go back to those early morning hours of December 1.
“What I should have never done is let my son have his phone by himself at night,” he stated. “And if I was speaking to a parent, that’s exactly what I would tell them. Listen, that’s something you can do today. Your kids are gonna buck that. They’re gonna resist that. Send them to this interview and look at me. Say, ‘Look... look at this dad. Look at this family. This is worth it. Your life is worth it.’”
You can find more information on what to know and what to do here.
If this happens to you or your teen, there are a few different ways to report it. You can contact the Jackson FBI Field Office at 601-948-5000, call 1-800-CALL-FBI, or report it online at tips.fbi.gov.
You can also report it to local law enforcement. But remember, the advice is not to pay the money.
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