WESTMORELAND COUNTY (KDKA) — A Westmoreland County mother has a warning to other parents about Snapchat.
She’s sharing the story of what happened to her 11-year-old daughter. The family was so traumatized, they asked KDKA to protect their identity. But they also wanted to speak out in hopes of protecting other children.READ MORE: Police Confirm Father And Son Found Dead Inside Forward Township Home Both Had COVID-19
“Sick to her stomach were the exact words she used,” the mother said.
They are the words a little girl from Westmoreland County used following what happened to her online. The child was so disturbed by what happened to her on Snapchat and couldn’t find the words to tell her mother, so she wrote it in a letter.
“It was just so disturbing that he would do this, and he would ask my daughter, who was 11-year-old at the time, did she like it?” the victim’s mother told KDKA.
The mother said a 21-year-old man living in another state sent the young girl a naked photo of himself. The man is a registered sex offender.
The girl immediately blocked him on Snapchat, and her mom called the police in North Huntingdon Township and in North Carolina, where the man lived.
“It’s not a charge in our jurisdiction that we take lightly, anytime we have a case of this magnitude, especially if it’s a case dealing with a registered offender,” Lieutenant Supervisor Kevin Hickman of the Roberson County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina told KDKA.
Charles Richards has been a registered sex offender since 2018. At the time he sent the photo to the 11-year-old girl, he was under house arrest for sending lewd images to a different young girl.
When authorities went to question him, he wasn’t at the address listed on the sex offender’s registry. When officials finally found him, he was living in an entirely different state and he went back to jail on parole violations.
“He was breaking laws on top of what he had already done. So what do you do with that information? So you go to the police, and they say their hands are tied,” the victim’s mom said.
Although detectives said Richards admitted to sending the photo to the girl in North Huntingdon, her mom said she couldn’t get the Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office to press charges.
She was worried once he got back out of jail, he’d be right back at it. She was right.
“He has committed crimes since within our jurisdiction, ” Lt. Hickman said. “It is involving an 11-year-old juvenile.”READ MORE: Man Flown To The Hospital With Severe Head Injury After Front End Loader Rolls Over
And again, police said Richards contacted that girl through Snapchat.
“It made us angry, frustrated, sad. It made us feel like the justice system failed us,” the mother said. “Because this could have been prevented.”
“I cannot ring the warning bell loud enough to parents to understand the danger that is out there in the online community,” FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent Timothy Wolford said.
The FBI said it is seeing more and more of these cases.
“We have an undercover agent who creates a profile of a young girl,” Special Agent Wolford said. “Within five minutes, he’s getting 15, 20, 30 requests from men asking for pictures.”
Local experts who work with victims of domestic and sexual violence said better safeguards are way overdue
“Until we have figured out how to have strong protections in place for kids, I think we can expect that these types of things will continue to happen,” Kimberly Fox, an education specialist for the Blackburn Center in Greensburg told KDKA.
Detective Hickman feels strongly that local, state and federal agencies must work together, especially when it comes to repeat sex offenders. He said if local authorities won’t help, keep pushing until justice is served.
“Don’t stop at one level. You do have a ladder. You can climb and it does go all the way up to your legislation and your attorney general’s office,” Lt. Hickman said.
“If he was here in custody, he wouldn’t be able to do a crime in North Carolina, ” the victim’s mom said.
After Richards’ most recent arrest, the local mom reached back out to Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, and he finally agreed to meet with her to discuss the case. He told KDKA he needed to look more closely at the case.
North Carolina detectives say the most recent case involving Richards remains an open investigation. He is currently in custody.MORE NEWS: Billboards Go Up In McKeesport Asking People To Come Forward With Information In Killing Of Karli Short
For information on how to protect yourself or a loved one, the Blackburn Center is among those with resources that can help. Click here for more.