WXMI — It’s every parent's worst nightmare, and that was certainly the case for Kara and Benjamin, two Kent County parents who discovered their 12-year-old daughter had been talking to a predator online in June of last year.
It wasn’t for lack of trying – like a lot of parents, Kara and Benjamin had talked ad nauseum to their kids about steering clear of strangers online. It wasn’t enough.
“I periodically check the kids’ phones,” said Benjamin, the girl’s father. “On her YouTube app there were like 75-80 notifications and I went ‘well that’s kind of odd that there would be that many.’”
The messages were from 58-year-old James Wean of Lubbock, Texas. The two had started talking on YouTube and Facebook Messenger after the 12-year-old commented on a comment Wean left on a Christian music video.
“We looked at it and as soon as we saw the messages, we knew that it wasn’t a good thing,” said Benjamin.
Court documents show the various messages Wean sent to the 12-year old:
“I can feel your hugs all the way in [Texas],” one message from Wean reads. “You have a ton of love in your lil’ 12-year old body! LOL I’m so happy we met.”
Another reads: “I thought texting would be easier, but I have a feeling your parents might not approve of that…”
Yet another reads: “Sex is kinda addicting… Like strawberries with sugar!”
Other messages sent by Wean were far more explicit.
“I was obviously a shock to me,” said Kara, “and then that sort of moved on into ‘how could this happen?’”
The couple immediately called the Kent County Sheriff’s Office. A detective took over the girl’s messaging apps in a sting operation and four months later, Wean admitted to police he had sent the lewd and graphic messages.
Wean originally faced charges for Enticement and Attempted Enticement of a Minor and Transfer of Obscene Material to a Minor – the latter was dropped as part of a plea agreement. For the one Enticement count, Wean will spend ten years in prison.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, cases of enticement – the same crime Wean pleaded guilty to – rose 97.5% from 2019 to 2020. It has a lot to do with kids having spent more time online during the pandemic.
“It obviously could’ve been way worse so I’m glad that we realized what was going on before it was too late,” said Kara. “Sometimes talking just isn’t enough and when talking isn’t enough, just looking at what they’re doing. Either on their phone or Chrome or tablet or whatever.
Court documents out of Texas District Court also show Wean had been convicted on separate online sex crimes out of Texas in 2013 but was exonerated in 2017 after appealing the sentence.