The girls, who are students at St. Paul’s School for Girls and live in Reisterstown, reported the incidents to the school, who notified police on Friday, Sept. 13. Officers came to the school and spoke with the girls and their parents.
“A sexual predator has contacted over 50 of our upper-school students. These contacts and encounters are on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine,” Penny B. Evins, head of St. Paul’s School for Girls, said in a statement. “This person is calling himself J.P. Smith, Brian Pond, JPL42 and MatLax.”
According to police, one of the girls accepted a “friend” request in the summer of 2012, as well as video chat requests from the suspect. The second girl accepted the request last week. Both told police they viewed explicit messages from the suspect and entered chat rooms where he engaged them in explicit conversation.
Police are trying to identify the suspect, whose age is unknown, and determine if a crime was committed. Police said there is no indication that he made, or tried to make, physical contact with the girls. The suspect’s gender has not been confirmed by police.
Neighboring schools were also notified of the incident, and several emailed parents, including Carver Center for Arts and Technology Principal Karen Steele and Jemicy School Head of School Ben Shifrin. While it is unclear if, and which, students from other schools were contacted, Steele said Carver students could be among that group.
“As we all know, technology opens up wondrous possibilities and opportunities, but with that comes the potential for some to use it for less noble purposes,” Steele said in an email to parents. “Though we would all wish that our students could be completely shielded from the dangers of the world, we also know that is unrealistic.”
She called it a “teachable moment” and encouraged parents to discuss the incident with their students.
Nancy Aiken, director of CHANA (Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women), said it’s important that the students know they didn’t do anything wrong.
“I give the students credit primarily, but I also give the school credit that they were seen as a safe place for students to tell,” she said.
It’s important that parents and faculty respond to any kind of “grooming,” the process in which predators set the stage for a sexual encounter, as early as possible, Aiken said.
Police advise children not to accept “friend” requests from strangers, open email from strangers or engage in video chats with strangers. They also recommend that parents use social media privacy settings on their children’s social networks.
Evins’ letter had similar advice and also recommended students not post anything inappropriate on social
“Our most important job as educators and parents is keeping our children safe,” Evins said in an emailed statement.
According to the email from Jemicy School’s Shifrin, some students at Garrison Forest School reported being followed in Instagram and Snapchat by a user with the name EMJAMLI, who is commenting on their pictures.
In a separate incident, an unidentified woman tried to lure a Bais Yaakov middle school student into her car at a bus stop on Thursday, Sept. 12. The student ignored the woman, ran home and told her parents, who notified Shomrim and Baltimore County Police, according to an email from the school.
“We do not know if the person knew that this was a time when Bais Yaakov students would be getting off the bus on the way home or if they just happened to be there,” the email said. “Either way, parents are advised to direct their children how to respond if such a situation should ever arise in the future.”