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Nottingham Township girl's Craigslist prank leads to juvenile charges

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:56 a.m.

A 17-year-old Nottingham Township girl is facing juvenile criminal charges after admitting she posted a suggestive personal ad on Craigslist that included the phone number of a Union Township girl, police said.

The act was initially meant as one friend playing a prank on the other, according to Southwest Regional police Chief John Hartman. It resulted in an undetermined number of adult men soliciting the victim for sexual purposes.

“She did it as a joke and what happened was the victim started getting all these wild texts to her phone, and she was afraid,” Hartman said.

“We were equally concerned. We didn't know if any of these people contacting her were trying to physically locate her and posed a threat to her and her family.”

The accused girl was charged with dissemination of obscene material to minors, unlawful communication with minors and harassment. A petition was filed in Washington County Juvenile Court.

The frightened victim called police March 16 saying she was receiving graphic text messages and calls on her cell phone, including lewd photos and nudity, Hartman said.

Hartman said the victim discovered she was being contacted because of an ad on the website Craigslist. The ad included a bogus picture of a woman and a promise of sex “with no strings attached.”

When the girl tried to access the ad, it had already been removed, Hartman said. Many of the men knew the girl lived in Washington County and continually referred to seeing the ad on Craigslist.

“There's a lot of people who responded to this ad who had no idea the girl (they were contacting) was a juvenile,” Hartman said.

Hartman compared the act to writing “For a good time, call …” on a bathroom wall. Except, in this case, it was a website that's accessible to thousands of anonymous viewers in an instant.

And even after the ad was removed after “a short time,” the lewd messages kept pouring in, Hartman said.

The chief said he didn't know how the suspect discovered the victim was having these problems.

“They were pummeling the girl's phone with messages,” Hartman said. “The victim voiced concern, so the actor went and removed the ad, and she thought that was the end of it, no harm, no foul.

“We, as police, can't just say, ‘Oh well, no harm, no foul.' There was a huge foul here. This is serious business, and it could've really created problems for this girl and her family, and the actor should answer for that.”

Hartman said his department was able to reconstruct the ad, and following a four-day investigation, trace the origin to the Nottingham Township girl.

Police contacted the girl's parents. The girl subsequently confessed to posting the ad, Hartman said.

Hartman declined to say if the girls attend school together, saying only that they were “friends.”

The victim was surprised to find out who posted the ad, Hartman said.

“Here's the point: These kids are navigating on the cyber highway, and there's a lot of danger on that highway,” Hartman said.

“Just because they can get into these websites doesn't mean they know how to handle it once they're into it.

“We had to address what the actor initially thought was a joke,” Hartman added. “This is no joke … not when you count the public resources we expended getting this done and not when we saw the kind of text messages coming in.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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