Man who allegedly solicited teen appears in court

November 19, 2010 4:46:25 PM PST
We have new and disturbing details about the case of a Florida man arrested for allegedly plotting to have sex with a 16-year-old boy here in Houston. Prosecutors say they are troubled by what Christopher Pearce, 45, allegedly had planned for that boy. Pearce appeared in court Friday morning.

Prosecutors say Pearce had made reservations at a downtown Houston hotel, and using an iPhone app, they say he sent messages to the teen boy about deviant sex acts he had in mind for his Houston trip.

Pearce was handcuffed and shackled in court Friday as prosecutors said he flew in from Florida Wednesday and checked into a hotel, after initialing meeting the teen on Facebook, then communicating with him through an iPhone app called Qrush. Prosecutors say Pearce used the app to send nude and sexually explicit pictures of himself to the teenager.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received information and alerted the Houston Area Internet Crimes against Children Task Force and Harris County District Attorney's Office. Police were able to match Pearce's photo on the app to surveillance video in the Houston hotel.

"Online solicitation of minors is enormously serious. It's a very big threat especially when we have most of our kids now using computers, have cell phones that are available to get on the internet," said Asst. District Attorney John Wakefield. "The app that was actually used to communicate was an app on an iPhone, so it's one of these things where if we didn't step in, it could have been horrible."

Pearce was charged with three counts of online solicitation of a minor. Bond has been set at $50,000 per charge. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

What parents can do to protect their children

This story is a reminder of how fast technology is changing and how much harder parents have to work to protect their children.

The two met through an iPhone app call Qrush. Most parents probably don't know about it.

"The kids have way more access to technology than we ever had," High-Tech Crimes Expert Sgt. Gary Spurger said. "It provides a much more fertile hunting ground for the predator."

Spurger is a founding member of the Houston Area Internet Crimes against Children Task Force. He says it is difficult to keep up with all the technology kids may be using.

"Conversation is the best key. It's just the parents have a tendency not to be involved. They remove themselves from it, and you need to be involved, period," Spurger said.

While there are many blocking mechanisms parents can put into place for home computers, that's not the case for many phones with Internet access. Spurger showed us another app that parents should be aware of using "Augmented Reality."

"If they are tied to the phone and the phone's got GPS, it will take me straight down to the street address," Spurger said.

It allows someone to pinpoint the exact location of someone posting a tweet.

"While it's really cool for adults, I already see issues with it for kids," he said.

Spurger says parents can provide the first line of defense.


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