Predator targets 9-year-old Spokane boy on popular video game, how to keep your kids safe

SPOKANE, Wash. — Parents used to warn children about strangers in vans, but now, kids need to be aware of strangers online and on video games. 

It is not an internet conspiracy theory; it happened to a child in Spokane. 

A stranger targeted him through a video game chat and made disturbing threats and demands. 

It all happened in the game Roblox. If your child doesn’t play it, their friends probably do. 

The site has more than 48 million active uses and most are between the ages of 9 and 13.  Anyone can download it and kids can chat with people they don’t know. 

Search warrant documents say that is how a predator started talking to a 9-year-old Spokane boy. The conversation escalated over the course of four months and the stranger even pretended to be the boy’s pastor, further gaining his trust. 

FBI Special Agent Christian Parker said it is something that is happening more and more. 

“So, there’s a lot of different approaches they take, but always employing some kind of deception, some kind of threat or promises of money or gifts to get that young person to open up and talk to them,” Parker said. 

That is when the conversation took an even darker turn. In this case, the stranger learned about the boy’s past and threatened to shoot him, knowing one of the child’s family members had shot themselves. 

Then, the predator asked the boy for nude pictures and videos. 

Search warrant documents show the boy sent 25 naked photos and five videos to this stranger, who then asked the boy to introduce him to more friends. 

Court records show the predator tried the same thing when he was introduced to a 9-year-old girl. She did not send anything and told a school counselor who then went to the police. 

“They shouldn’t be afraid to come forward when somebody is asking for these pictures or even if they’ve sent these pictures,” Parker said. “It’s okay to talk to parents, school staff or law enforcement.” 

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating. The FBI is not involved yet, but they are aware of cases like this. 

“We’re taking any number of approaches to track down and identify these predators,” Parker said. 

Documents say the sexual images were shared through the Roblox chat feature. The company told 4 News Now gamers can only chat, not send photos or videos. 

Roblox also says it filters inappropriate content for young users, but it doesn’t mean predators can’t find another way. 

“In games like Roblox, we as parents have a role to set up the child’s account properly,” said Andy Robertson. 

Robertson is a video game journalist who has written a book and website on how parents can help their children avoid dangerous situations like this. 

He says Roblox automatically applies restricted settings based on age, but it is up to parents to put in the right information. 

“It’s worth spending a good, maybe half an hour looking at those settings and understanding,” Robertson said. “Maybe talking to your child about them, like who should you be able to talk to, should anyone be able to make a friend request.” 

Through a parent’s email, families can track what their child is playing and who they are talking to. 

Robertson says it is important to keep an open conversation. 

“If your child comes across something that makes them feel unsettled or unsure, they’re much more likely to talk to you about it,” he said. 

Any form of media can be unsafe, but that is why parents need to play a role at the beginning and monitor what is happening online. 

“It can be a really good first step if you do it with your child,” Robertson said. “It can be a lovely way to build confidence and to build good habits for your child going online now when they’re small, but also in their future life, as well.” 

Police are still trying to find the true identity of the stranger who preyed on the young Spokane boy. 

Investigators got a hold of what they believed was the predator’s username on Roblox. But, the company said it was not valid. If investigators do find out who did it, they could face at least 15 years in prison, if they are convicted of a federal crime. 

Roblox declined to do an interview for this story, but did say they work to prevent, detect and promptly report any suspected online grooming.

While Roblox moderates what happens on its game, other chat apps may have less stringent safety settings. 

“This is why we also specifically monitor for, and block, chats where users might be trying to share other social media usernames in an attempt to bring a player off our platform and onto another,” Roblox said in a statement. 

While safety starts with keeping an eye on a child’s gaming habit, there are settings that allow families to restrict a child’s account when someone isn’t around. 

If you sign up your child and they are under 13, Roblox automatically blocks inappropriate words, phrases and questions related to personal information.

The company also automatically prevents people from messaging children, unless they are accepted as a friend.

Once the account is set up, parents can go to “account restrictions” and limit or turn off the chat feature. If a change is made, parents also have the ability to require a four-digit code to confirm the changes.

Parents can learn more here.