Michigan teen's suicide highlights growing dangers of online sextortion plots

"Impact x Nightline" examines the scams that have led to several deaths.

October 20, 2023, 2:22 PM

Jordan DeMay was a typical and outgoing 17-year-old who his friends and family say made everyone's life brighter.

But last year, after the Upper Peninsula Michigan high school homecoming king received a message from an Instagram account that appeared to be a teenage girl, he wound up going down a dark road that within only six hours would end with him taking his own life.

The girl, who investigators said was, in reality, Nigerian men allegedly part of an online extortion ring using the teenage female handle “Dani Robertts,” first befriended him, later volunteered her own nudes, and then elicited explicit photos from Jordan, only to immediately upon receipt, extort him for money after threatening to send those compromising photos to his friends and family.

PHOTO: Jordan DeMay took his own life after he was allegedly targeted in a sextortion scam online, investigators said.
Jordan DeMay took his own life after he was allegedly targeted in a sextortion scam online, investigators said.
Courtesy The DeMay Family

“Dani” would ultimately goad him to die by suicide, prosecutors said.

"I feel like he was tortured… and forced to put a gun to his head, or it would ruin his life, in his mind," Jennifer DeMay Buta, Jordan's mother, told "Impact x Nightline."

The FBI and children safety watchdog groups say Jordan's story is one that is being played out among teens and adolescents at an alarming rate and they say, parents, teachers, and caregivers need to be prepared for it.

"Impact x Nightline" takes a look at Jordan's death and the growing sextortion scams targeting teens around the country in a new episode now streaming on Hulu.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Mark Civiletto told "Impact" that there were over 7,000 reported sextortion cases against children in the U.S. in 2022.

"In my experience, in fact, I would think that number is well over 100,000 cases that have not been reported," Civiletto said.

The FBI said that over 20 minors have committed suicide because of sextortion scams in the last few years.

Lauren Coffren, the executive director of the Exploited Children Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told "Impact" that the non-profit has seen over 12,500 reports of sextortion this year.

"We've already surpassed 2022 numbers and the year was barely even halfway over," she said.

Experts said Jordan's case is typical of the sextortion plots that they've been investigating.

In March 2022, Jordan received an Instagram message from a female user named "dani.robertts" who claimed they had mutual friends, according to investigators.

The chats became more flirty and sexually explicit to the point where "Dani," asked Jordan for nude photos, Marquette County, Michigan Sheriff Greg Zyburt told "Impact."

"He said, 'Is this a scam?' He actually asked the scammer," Zyburt said. "And they [said] 'No. No.' of course. And then he did send a compromising photo. And that's when everything changed instantly."

"Dani" soon threatened to send the photos to Jordan's friends and family "until it goes viral," and extorted the teen for $1,000, according to investigators.

Jordan's parents, who had no idea about the chats until after his death, said they later learned their son did send "Dani," over $300, but that didn't stop the extortion.

PHOTO: John DeMay speaks with "Impact x Nightline.
John DeMay speaks with "Impact x Nightline.
ABC News

"They kept pushing and pushing," John DeMay, Jordan's father, told "Impact." "They were building collages with his compromised photo, with other photos of his friends and family and parents threatening to send it out to them and keep putting the pressure on them. They never gave him a single minute to think."

The pressure kept building and Jordan told "Dani" that he was thinking of taking his own life "because of you," according to court documents.

"Good. Do that fast," "Dani" responded, according to court papers.

The teen fatally shot himself in his bed on March 25, 2022, investigators said.

The news of his death sent shockwaves to his family, friends and classmates.

"The second I stepped foot in the high school office and see my parents with tears in their eyes, I melted to the floor and it was a heartbreak I hope to never feel again," Kyla Palomaki, Jordan's girlfriend of over a year and a half until the time of his death, told "Impact."

Kyla said that she began to receive messages online from people expressing their condolences, but one message from a random user caught her eye, and ultimately became the key step in what would help prosecutors uncover the scam.

That message she says was from a user with explicit photos of Jordan who threatened to send the photos to her friends and family.

Kyla said she told her parents about the message and they went to the police.

PHOTO: Jenn DeMay Buta speaks with "Impact x Nightline.
Jenn DeMay Buta speaks with "Impact x Nightline.
ABC News

Sheriff Zyburt and his detectives collaborated with the FBI, who just the day prior had issued a press release warning of the explosive number of sextortion cases targeting minors.

The investigators subpoenaed Jordan’s social media.

Marquette County, Michigan prosecutor Matt Wiese told “Impact,” “It became a case on my desk fairly shortly after we processed the tragedy and law enforcement got involved. It was very tragic, and with that in mind, we started looking at what can we do here under Michigan law.”

Law enforcement tracked “Dani Robertts’s” IP address to Nigeria, where investigators allege that many online sextortion scams are run out of, along with the Ivory Coast and the Philippines.

Three Nigerian men, brothers Samuel, 22, and Samson Ogoshi, 20, and Ezekiel Ejemeh Robert, 19, were linked to Jordan's case and more than 100 other victims, including a 21-year-old who lives in Wisconsin and a 16-year-old who lives in New York, according to Mark Totten, the U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Michigan.

All three were arrested in Nigeria and indicted in the U.S. in May.

The Ogoshi brothers were extradited to the U.S. in August on charges that include conspiracy to sexually exploit minors, distribute pornography, and commit stalking through the internet.

Samuel Ogoshi faces an additional count of sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of a minor resulting in death.

They pleaded not guilty and their attorneys told the court that neither brother has a history of any criminal wrongdoing. The suspects' attorneys did not respond to "Impact's" multiple requests for comment.

Ezekiel Robert is awaiting extradition.

Jordan's parents have attended every hearing, and have said it's been very hard to see the men accused of coercing their son to take his own life face-to-face.

PHOTO: Kyla Palomaki, Jordan DeMay's girlfriend at the time of his death, speaks with "Impact x Nightline."
Kyla Palomaki, Jordan DeMay's girlfriend at the time of his death, speaks with "Impact x Nightline."
ABC News

"Two families are going to be destroyed because of this," DeMay Buta said. "There is another mother somewhere in Nigeria missing her two sons. And it's really unfortunate that both families are in this situation because of this senseless act and $300."

Jordan's parents are joining a growing number of families whose children have been victimized in sounding the alarm on online sextortion scams.

Two weeks after Jordan died, DeMay Buta and family friend Brad Jurmu started the "# Igotyou" movement inspired by one of Jordan's favorite expressions, to spread awareness about the scams.

Another family taking a stand against sextortion is Tamia and Tim Woods, of Streetsboro, Ohio.

Their only child, James Timothy Woods, a 17-year-old high school track star hurdler, died by suicide on Nov. 19, 2022, following being sextorted online.

Within days, the couple was speaking to groups of teenagers to alert them of sextortion before they too could fall victim.

PHOTO: Tim and Tamia Woods speak with "Impact x Nightline."
Tim and Tamia Woods speak with "Impact x Nightline."
ABC News

That mission quickly turned into a second full-time job for the two, speaking at over 80 events in the last eleven months, reaching thousands of middle schoolers and high school students.

"If it could happen to us, in a two-parent household, who are active in our son's life, it could happen to anybody," Tamia Woods told "Impact."

Parents and school principals, superintendents, guidance counselors who have met with the couple have also been absorbing the message, according to the Woods.

"It's a sense of success that I have. Because now I've talked to you. You're aware of the situation, and you can speak to somebody else about it," Tamia Woods said.

They also started the “Do It For James” Foundation, a non-profit that "works with communities to increase awareness, provide support and education to both parents and children on crime against students, while also supplying a wide range of assistance for those in need."

All parents have received feedback that the awareness they are raising about sextortion is helping others from getting trapped.

"We're getting messages from all over the world every other day," John DeMay said. "Victims themselves who reached out and said, 'I haven't told anyone about this.'"

PHOTO: How to avoid online sextortion scams and what to do if you're a victim
How to avoid online sextortion scams and what to do if you're a victim
ABC News, law enforcement agencies

Sheriff Zyburt said anyone who is getting solicited in a scam should block the user. If you're being extorted, he urged people to save the messages and contact law enforcement.

"It might be embarrassing pictures of yourself, [but] we need this. It's evidence to help get them, and we will get them," Zyburt said.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.