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Social media sex predator case serves as a warning for parents

Spokane police say a Federal Way man met his victim through a dating site called AYI - Are You Interested - and groomed her to run away from her home. The 15-year-old's parents set up a sting to catch him. (Linda Thomas photo)

Spokane parents, suspicious about their 15-year-old daughter’s online relationship, ended up catching a 30-year-old man who was seducing her.

This case may serve as a warning for others about how a man from Federal Way allegedly targeted the girl and how the parents helped police bust him.

I talked with the mother briefly. She didn’t want to be quoted because of the trauma her family has been through. I’m also not using the parents’ or daughter’s names.

Spokane police say the parents were alert enough to know something was strange about their daughter’s online relationship with Jason Richards. It began in April.

Police say the man knew the girl was just 15 as he groomed the Spokane victim from his home in Federal Way.

“You’re dealing with a very manipulative suspect,” says Spokane Police Sergeant Justin Lundgren. “He promises to provide whatever it is that that victim needs in order to get closer.”

In this case, Richards told the teen he loved her, gave her a fake diamond ring and talked about marriage.

“He was very patient and it was a very slow-developing relationship over time, ultimately ending in an abuse situation,” Sgt. Lundgren says.

The girl was sexually assaulted at a Spokane motel on one of the suspect’s visits to the area, according to court documents.

The parents confiscated their daughter’s iPad earlier this month.

They discovered their daughter had exchanged hundreds of messages – including some sexual pictures and videos – with the alleged predator.

The girl and Richards were also talking online about how she could leave her home, elope and then cut off all contact with her family so they couldn’t find her.

The mother contacted Richards posing as her daughter. She persuaded him to go through with the runaway plan.

When he arrived in an alley behind the family’s Spokane home in the early hours of June 8, the girl’s father and two of his friends were waiting for him. They held Richards until police got there to make an arrest.

Richards is facing attempted kidnapping and child rape charges.

Detectives say the teenager is lucky her parents were clued in and were able to stop the situation from becoming worse.

This case is an example of why parents need to know what their kids are doing online and which sites and applications their teens use.

They need to be aware that there are sexual predators working social media 24/7, Sgt. Lundgren says.

Police say Richards met his victim through a website called AYI “Are You Interested.” It’s a dating site and Facebook app.

After entering an email address, or registering through Facebook, the user lists a series of “favorite” movies, music or TV shows in order to be match up with someone of similar interests.

Users can select dating options based on age, race, location, and a few other factors. Next, a photo pops up of a person listing their first name, age and city.

Are you interested? Click a “yes” box to connect with the person in the picture, or “skip” and then the program shuffles through other pictures.

AYI, run by a company called SNAP Interactive, says it’s one of the largest social dating apps with over 68 million installs.

I think daters should “skip” AYI entirely.

There are other sites that offer more detailed information about a potential date and at least with Facebook you have the ability to learn about a person through their photos and other friends they have online.

AYI is for those 18 and older, though they do not verify ages.

A disclaimer says, “We do not conduct criminal background screenings.” That’s the case for many online dating programs.

To its credit, the site also includes a page of safety advice such as, “Never agree to be picked up at your home. Always provide your own transportation to and from your date and meet in a public place with many people around. Be careful, don’t believe everything you hear.”


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