A Paradise man was allegedly using the social networking site Facebook to solicit sexual acts from a minor.
That is, until last week, when his efforts were intercepted by investigators with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.
For several days Christopher D. Ashmore, 20, believed he was communicating with a minor female between the age of 13 and 16. Ashmore communicated with “her” via Facebook messages and text messages on a cell phone.
He was supposed to meet her Friday, just before noon at the parking lot in front of Subway in Paradise, just a couple miles from the suspect’s home in the 200 block of County Road 3382.
However, instead of coming face to face with a young girl, he walked into a sting operation set up by Investigator Josh Reynolds and other members of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.
“He was shocked; I can tell you that much,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds got involved in the case after the Sheriff’s Office received a report from a “concerned citizen” that Ashmore was allegedly attempting to solicit sexual acts from minor girls using the Internet and text messaging.
Ashmore was charged with online solicitation of a minor, a third-degree felony. He was booked into Wise County Jail under a $25,000 bond. He posted it later the same day.
Reynolds said the suspect was cooperative and even admitted to his crime. Ashmore graduated from Decatur High School in 2010.
Investigators also confiscated a cell phone which will be analyzed with help from the U.S. Secret Service.
Reynolds said he has reason to believe there could be more victims in this case. He encourages anyone with information regarding other possible victims to contact him at 940-627-5971 ext. 263 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The case is one of many involving online predators using Facebook to locate victims in Wise County over the past few years.
The ease of access to the Internet has created a new digital neighborhood in which parents need to watch out for strangers.
“You live out in a rural place like Wise County, and you feel safe when your child is outside playing,” said John Shehan, executive director of the Exploited Child Division of the National Association of Missing and Exploited Children. “But then they come in, and you don’t know what kind of people they are going to meet online.
“The No. 1 thing is for parents to educate themselves. Ten years ago parents could just take away the keyboard or unplug the modem when they left. But the Internet is more accessible today. The iPhone is a walking laptop. Kids can do anything on it. The technology keeps changing. Fifteen years ago all you had to worry about was Myspace.”
Reynolds encourages all parents to know who their children are contacting and what they are doing on their Facebook pages.
“These conversations (with Ashmore) started through Facebook,” Reynolds said. “If you are a parent and you don’t know your kid’s Facebook password, you might want to go and find that out. Find out who your children are talking to. These (predators) aren’t going to stop.”
Last year alone, 326,000 cases of child pornography were reported to the Center’s Cyber Tipline.
Parents can learn about protecting their children in the online world at www.netsmartz411.org or call (888) 638-7411. Both are operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Make a report at www.cybertipline.com.