21 arrested across Columbus in online child predator sting

UPDATE

11/16/17 5:14 p.m. -- A Federal Grand Jury has returned indictments charging 20 people with attempted online enticement of a minor. This charge carries a ten year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum term of life in prison, a $250,000 fine or both, up to a lifetime term of supervised release and mandatory sex offender registration.

  • Reginald Crowell, 36, of Pittsview, Ala.
  • Jonathan Jenkins, 23, of Columbus
  • Ke Song, 24, of Auburn
  • Kenneth Jordan, 29, of Columbus
  • Edwin Nieves, 55, of Columbus
  • Ji Won Kim, 26, of Atlanta
  • Christopher McGowan, 32, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.
  • Collis Eaton, 48, of Midway, Ala.
  • Derrick Smalls, 38, of Phenix City
  • Michael Everett, 22, of Columbus
  • Jimmy Cobb, 35, of Columbus
  • Derrick Weldon, 30, of Columbus
  • Harold Bates, 35, of Selma, Ala.
  • Jarrold Long, 27, of Columbus
  • William Pruitt, 48, Franklin, NC
  • Eric Menefee, 50, of Opelika
  • Gary Whitfield, 28, of Columbus
  • Brian Corcoran, 42, of Columbus
  • Robert Moore, 31, of Ladonia, Ala.
  • Uthemes Taylor, 30, of Columbus

(ORIGINAL STORY)

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- An undercover sting to root out child predators ended early Monday morning with a total 21 men behind bars.

Operation Hidden Guardian is an initiative by state and local investigators to use fake social media and phone app profiles operated by officers to root out predators.

Columbus Police Department Chief Ricky Boren says all 21 suspects agreed to travel to or around Columbus to meet who they thought were underage kids for sex.

Boren's release says the operation first initiated when the GBI's Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC) and the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) first contacted local law enforcement back in August to organize a sting.

Hidden Guardian started on November 9 and over the course of the investigation, more than 600 messages were exchanged between undercover officers and online profiles.  The release says around 400 of the exchanges were initiated by predators seeking a child and steering conversations towards sexual topics. The release says at times the adults exposed the "minor" to obscene, pornographic images or asked the "child" to take nude photos.

Over the past five days, the 21 suspects who either lived in Columbus or traveled to the area for sex with a minor were arrested.

Boren says the suspects range from 22 to 55 with all kinds of professions -- from a local car wash attendant to a school custodian all the way from North Carolina.

"There is no profile, there is no standard child predator," says Debbie Garner, the commander of the Georgia ICAC.

Garner says it's not uncommon for such predators to have inappropriate encounters with children in their past, even if they have no prior convictions.

"Most often they admit to prior sexual contact with children in the past. As the commander of the task force, that's very important to me. It tells me we are actually arresting the people who are preying on children and so that these operations really do work," she says.

"You know there was one person who basically admitted that they had been thinking about touching children and that they felt as though that would have happened in the future. They were almost happy that they were caught."

Garner suggests parents utilize resources like NetSmartz.Org, an site operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The site features tips to keep children's information safe and signs to watch out for to avoid predators. NetSmartz.Org even has videos from survivors who tell their terrifying encounters with online predators.

Some of the tips include not talking to anyone you don't know in real life, even if their profile age seems similar to your own.

"It may look like they are a 16-year-old boy or a 16-year-old girl and that's not actually who they are. you know a lot of times kids will say well they're a kid too and they'll accept their friend request," Garner says. "All they have to do, all a child predator has to do is get one kid to accept their friend request and then the other kids see that they're friends with them, and then they accept their friend request, so it's things like that we try to teach kids."

Suspects

  • Austin Pierce, 26, of Columbus
  • Reginald Crowell, 36, of Pittsview, Ala.
  • Jonathan Jenkins, 23, of Columbus
  • Ke Song, 24, of Auburn
  • Kenneth Jordan, 29, of Columbus
  • Edwin Nieves, 55, of Columbus
  • Ji Won Kim, 26, of Atlanta
  • Christopher McGowan, 32, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.
  • Collis Eaton, 48, of Midway, Ala.
  • Derrick Smalls, 38, of Phenix City
  • Michael Everett, 22, of Columbus
  • Jimmy Cobb, 35, of Columbus
  • Derrick Weldon, 30, of Columbus
  • Harold Bates, 35, of Selma, Ala.
  • Jarrold Long, 27, of Columbus
  • William Pruitt, 48, Franklin, NC
  • Eric Menefee, 50, of Opelika
  • Gary Whitefield, 28, of Columbus
  • Brian Corcoran, 42, of Columbus
  • Robert Moore, 31, of Ladonia, Ala.
  • Uthemes Taylor, 30, of Columbus
 

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