WHEELING - The dangers children face with the use of cell phones hit home this week with the arrest of two Wheeling men suspected of sending inappropriate text messages to Ohio Valley juveniles.
George Rooker, 24, who was arrested Wednesday in a "sexting" sting operation, has been formally charged by the Wheeling Police Department and is accused of distributing obscene material to children. Rooker turned himself in Friday to Wheeling police. He was charged with the felony and arraigned by an Ohio County Magistrate.
Rooker was released after posting $25,000 bond. A Wheeling police official said the suspect is cooperating with investigators.
Rooker was arrested Wednesday in Mt. Olivet, said Marshall County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Kevin Cecil. Rooker is accused of sending graphic pictures and video via a cellular phone to a 35-year-old Marshall County woman since February. Rooker admitted to sending explicit photos and video to the Marshall County woman, Cecil said.
Wheeling Island resident Kristofer Ryder, 22, was arrested last week by Belmont County sheriff's deputies on allegations he repeatedly attempted to arrange meetings with an 11-year-old girl via text messages. Ryder reportedly got the girl's number from an adult friend before he was arrested at the Ohio Valley Mall, St. Clairsville, in a sting operation organized by Belmont County authorities. The child's mother reported the text messages to Belmont County sheriff's deputies who set up the sting operation.
Ryder, who is free on bond, faces charges of criminal child enticement and interference with custody. Federal charges are pending because Ryder allegedly traveled across state lines to meet the child.
SAFETY ON THE LINE
Wheeling Police Chief Kevin Gessler said there are three steps children and their parents should take if the youngster receives a text messages from a person they have never met:
- Do not reply.
Gessler said children should handle text messages from someone they don't know as they would e-mails or phone calls. Just don't answer them.
- Tell a mom or dad.
Gessler said children who receive a text message, photo or video from someone they don't know should contact an adult immediately. If the adult believes the message or image is inappropriate, they should call authorities immediately.
- Save the message or image.
A child who receives a text message or photo from someone they don't know can help police by not deleting the item. It could help police in putting a potentially dangerous person behind bars.
Cecil said reports of children receiving inappropriate text messages are becoming more and more common. He said the Marshall County Sheriff's Department regularly looks into such complaints, and deputies who work as resource officers in Marshall County schools receive reports of inappropriate texting each week.
"It is everywhere," Cecil said. "I don't know what's going on, but it's crazy. We are inundated with this stuff."
Cecil said it is important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing with their cell phones. He said there are signs that indicate inappropriate things are happening.
"If they receive a text and leave the room," Cecil said in regard to what parents should look for. "You need to be vigilant. Take a look and be observant. Be involved. You can catch some of this stuff. Inquire, be a friend, be a parent."
Wheeling Police Chief Kevin Gessler said children should immediately tell their parents if they receive an inappropriate text message, especially if it is from someone they don't know. He said parents should contact authorities if they have any concerns about the text message. Gessler said the most important message for children is to never respond to a message or photo sent by someone they don't know.
"It's like an e-mail, phone calls or any type of contact by a stranger - do not reply," Gessler stressed. "The first thing to understand and teach (children) is that they need to tell their parents right now, and let the parents decide the proper steps. (Children) shouldn't be concerned about the material, they should be concerned with the fact that they received a text from someone they don't know."
Gessler said his investigators have handled a number of cases involving cell phones and text messaging. He said it is important children do not erase text messages sent by people they don't know. Gessler said saving that information could lead to an arrest.
"It isn't something new," Gessler said. "The investigators are familiar with the process, and the steps to take to get records and cell phone records, but whatever you do, don't delete the information from the phone."