Local law enforcement officials say they have no idea at this point how long the multi-jurisdictional investigation into nude photos of county teens being posted online will take.
The local investigation began in February when a school resource officer in one of the county’s high schools received a report from a student that pictures of students at the school had appeared on the Internet in various stages of undress, according to Sheriff Graham Atkinson.
The information about Surry County students followed closely on the heels of an investigation that began when a woman called the Wake Forest police, telling them that her daughter had notified her of someone posting nude photos of her on Twitter and Instagram in that community.
Following the initiation of the Surry County investigation, county deputies learned that students from other schools were depicted on the now-shut-down sites.
“The sheriff’s office contacted the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) for forensic assistance and learned that several other jurisdictions across the state had made similar reports,” he said.
At present, county authorities are working closely with both the SBI and the state attorney general’s office in the investigation.
While he would not comment on specifics, Atkinson said there are multiple county schools involved.
“We don’t know that there is any high school in the county that isn’t affected,” he said.
Atkinson said the investigation is being made more difficult due to the fact that the websiteswere taken down shortly after the investigation was initiated.
“We have identified some of the students depicted in the photos, but we don’t know how many more there are we don’t know about since the websites are down,” he said. “And at this point we don’t know whether this is a case of a girl taking a picture for her boyfriend or what is going on.”
Working with so many different jurisdictions and entities is also hampering the closure of the investigation, the sheriff added.
“This investigation is moving slowly,” he said. “But a lot of the reason is because of the detailed computer forensic work that has to be done. Since this is a statewide case, we’re having to work with the SBI and the attorney general’s office and try to coordinate on the investigation so it can be effective in all jurisdictions.”
Atkinson said investigators will look at each incident individually and determine whether charges will be filed against the underage females themselves.
“The attorney general’s office is going to take each picture and incident individually and determine whether there was a crime committed,” he said. “But at this time, we don’t know how many incidents have happened in Surry County. It could be dozens or it could be hundreds.”
But Atkinson didn’t mince words of what he thought of the individuals who posted the photos.
“These websites and the perverts who created them have no respect for females of any age,” he said. “Their sole purpose is to use images they capture to degrade, embarrass and control innocent victims in an effort to satisfy their own sick and twisted sexual desires and to fulfill their own fantasies.
“Further, they may use these websites to produce income for themselves at the expense of these victims’ privacy and self-respect,” Atkinson added. “There is no tactic that they will not use, no manner of persuasion, no form of flattery, no threat too vile for them to use to coax these victims into sending pictures of themselves.”
Atkinson said it is extremely important that parents, school officials, law enforcement, churches, coaches and “all decent people in the community” to take every opportunity to talk to young people that they care about and remind them that once a photo or personal information is transmitted over the Internet it is there forever.
“No one, no one who cares one ounce for you would ever, under any circumstances, ask you to disrobe, make a picture of yourself and send it over the Internet where it can be captured, stolen, reprinted, re-transmitted, sold, traded and posted again and again for eternity,” he said.
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.