A series of nude pictures shared between Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School and George Mason High School students have set off a continuing investigation into the origin and intent of these images’ distribution by the City of Falls Church police department.
According to the Washington Post, who picked up on the sexting investigation by searching a warrant database, roughly a dozen students are under scrutiny for multiple images that were shared between personal phones as well as over social media.
Due to the fact that no one has been charged and minors are involved, no students will be named. There is no evidence to suggest any of the explicit activity took place on school grounds either.
Per City of Falls Church Chief of Police, Mary Gavin, the investigation formally began on April 26. It was spurred by a student who was filming two other students fighting at Henderson earlier that month. Once administrators met with the students involved and requested to see the phone that recorded the video of the fight, they noticed a sexually explicit photo of another student on the phone. The School Resource Officer was immediately notified as were the students’ parents, according to Falls Church City Public Schools’ director of communications, John Brett.
According to the search warrant obtained by the Post, Henderson’s assistant principal said that one male and one female Henderson student had sent each other nude pictures of themselves prior to breaking up. In an interview with the SRO, the male student confirmed he had sent a picture of his penis to his then-girlfriend, while in an interview with the police the female student confirmed she had sent a nude picture of herself to her then-boyfriend.
Following the break-up, the female student sent the picture of the male student’s penis to a second male student on Snapchat. During the SRO’s interview with the second male student, he told the police that he posted the photo of the first male student’s penis on Snapchat for around 10 minutes and noted that other students who viewed the image may have take screen shots during the time it was available on the mobile app, per the search warrant.
“In a world where anything can be can be copied, sent, and posted and then seen by a large audience, there is no such thing as being able to control information. Couple this with adolescent years and it makes navigating the demands of this age even more challenging,” Brett told the News-Press over e-mail. “This was a painful lesson for some of our students to learn, and our administrators are standing by them as they are bouncing back from this really difficult moment.”
After removing the photo from Snapchat, the second male student sent the image to a second female student. With the second male student’s consent, the SRO searched his phone and along with an image of a female’s bare breasts. The second male student told the SRO that the photo of the breasts was from a ninth grade student at Mason, which he received from a third male student at Henderson, per the search warrant.
When police met with the third male student, he told investigators that the ninth-grader exposed her breasts during a live session on Instagram and he captured an image of it, per the search warrant. The third male student told police that he had sent that image to the second male student as well as another male student at Henderson.
The ninth-grader at Mason admitted that she exposed her breasts during the live video on Instagram when she met with police. After a search of her phone, police found an explicit video of a male ninth-grader at Mason, per the search warrant.
The investigation is still ongoing. So far, five phones from students have been seized to be examined forensically for evidence. Search warrants for an additional four phones have been put out, according to Chief Gavin.
Under Virginia law, teens who sext can be prosecuted using the state’s child porn charge, a felony that carries a minimum five-year sentence. Gavin told the News-Press that City police are not committing to one particular legal course of action at this time as police are continuing to discover the full extent of what was distributed and what the intent was behind it.
Given that the law is targeted at apprehending distributors of child pornography, Gavin mentioned that City police are investigating to make sure that no adult with nefarious intent is behind the small collection of nude images that were shared between the students. Once that possibility is ruled out, she trusts that the City police’s solid relationship with the Commonwealth Attorney will be able to determine the appropriate legal course of action from there.