A 13-year-old Virginia girl is back home after being lured away by a man she'd been chatting with for at least six months through a Microsoft Xbox 360 game, police said.
Andrew Holloway, 21, who allegedly traveled to Evington, Va. from his home in Rhode Island, has been charged with a sex crime in connection with the case, according to police.
The teen was the third child in recent weeks to have left home to meet adults they came in contact with through an Xbox game. The others were a 16-year-old girl from Detroit and a 12-year-old boy from Ohio.
The 13-year-old Virginia girl first met Holloway through the game system's chat capabilities and then continued the relationship on the Internet after her Xbox broke, police said.
Bedford County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ricky Gardner said the girl was reported missing Tuesday evening by her father. An hour prior to his call, Gardner said, his office had received a tip from a neighbor about two suspicious people walking along the road near her home, later determined to be the teen and Holloway.
"Every time a car would come, they'd jump over to the wood line" to hide, Gardner told ABCNews.com today.
Police responded and found no trace of the pair, but when the girl's father reported his daughter missing a short time later a team of police, firefighters and K-9 units responded to the area as well as a state police helicopter with thermal imaging equipment.
While police, family and friends were searching for the blond teenager, she and Holloway were apparently figuring out their next move. Ultimately, Gardner said, they ended up knocking on the door of a house about a mile away from her home the next day, asking to use the telephone.
While one person at the home distracted them, the other, who recognized the teen from the news reports, called 911. Police responded and arrested Holloway, charging him with three counts of "carnal knowledge," Gardner said, and two counts of soliciting a female younger than 15 over the Internet.
Messages left with the public defender's office, which is representing Holloway, were not immediately returned. Holloway, who is being held without bond, is due in court Tuesday for a bond hearing.
'It Came in Through Xbox'
"They said they were going to run away to Canada," Gardner said, adding that once together they changed their destination to Arizona. "I don't think they thought it through well enough. I think the problem was he ran out of money," Gardner said.
A message left at the family's home wasn't immediately returned today, but the teen's mother told the local ABC affiliate yesterday that if her daughter wants to use the computer from now on, she'll do so with her parents at her side.
"We shielded our child from going outside," she told the affiliate. "But what happened was it came in. It came in through an Xbox."
Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and founder of WiredSafety.org, said because children, especially those as young as 13, have little sense of danger in these situations it is up to the parents to understand and monitor their gaming use.
"Parents absolutely have to understand about interactive game devices and what they do before they put them into kids' hands," she told ABCNews.com today.
All current gaming systems from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have Internet connectability.
"The good thing is, if you're on Xbox, we've got Microsoft behind it," Aftab said.
The Xbox is not only the most popular gaming system of the big three, which also includes the Sony Playstation and the Nintendo Wii, but Microsoft has the most advanced security checks and the most comprehensive guide to parental controls.
Though Microsoft requires a credit card payment of about $50 per year to connect with other players via the Internet, parents often hand over the plastic without really understanding what their kids are using it for, Aftab said.
And there are effective controls that still allow the child to play the game with others. Not only can parents block their kids from the chat feature on their Xbox, they can set controls to lock down the machine after a certain amount of time played or at certain hours of the day.
But while children need to be made aware of the dangers lurking behind their controllers, they can't be blamed for running off with adult predators, Aftab said. The very idea of the laws that protect children from statutory rape or Internet solicitation means they aren't fully capable of making responsible decisions at that age.
"Kids are reckless. Kids are careless. Kids are clueless," Aftab said. "Kids are needy. Kids are vulnerable."
The mother of a 16-year-old girl who ran away to Puerto Rico to meet a man she met through her Xbox told ABC's "Good Morning America" this week that her daughter, Jasmine Reiberger, had been lured from her Detroit home with promises of a professional boxing career. The two had started communicating through her Xbox and then graduated to conversations and text messages.
Jasmine left home Jan. 31, leaving a note that read "I'm not kidnapped" and paid for a plane ticket using money she'd received for her birthday. She was found three days later.
"No matter what you do, you can't protect them 100 percent of the time. The cell phone is another way the predators can get to them. That's how they got to my daughter," Stacey Rieberger told "Good Morning America."
Jasmine was reunited with her family in Puerto Rico this week while a 26-year-old man was detained by police there.
It's not always teen girls who are targeted.
Police in Parma, Ohio, say they arrested a 19-year-old man on rape charges in connection with an assault on a 12-year-old boy he met through Xbox.
Det. Marty Compton said the boy had been communicating with Codey Hawks for about a year and the boy's father had even joined in on some games with the man.
On Jan. 15, Hawks took a Greyhound bus from his home in Michigan and was accepted into the boy's house by his parents. But after Hawks allegedly made some comments that made the boy's parents suspect the two were having a sexual relationship they pulled him out of school and he "basically confirmed their suspicions," Compton said.
"I don't know if the parents were naive or whatever, but they felt comfortable letting Codey Hawks stay at their house," he said.
Hawks was charged Jan. 26 with seven counts of rape and four counts of gross sexual imposition. He's being held at the Cuyhaoga County Jail. Hawks' attorney David Grant told ABCNews.com today that he had not yet received information on the case and could not comment.
Compton said this was the first case Parma police have had where an alleged pedophile has made contact with a child through an Xbox.