EL CENTRO, Calif. – It’s a parent’s worst nightmare – their child lured by sexual predators on the internet.
Imperial County Sheriff’s officials say that’s nearly what happened to several local minors, all under the age of fourteen, who were allegedly contacted by nine men who are in jail tonight.
“It’s very common to use the internet in these types of crimes because people can have a lot of technology to hide behind,” said Imperial County Sheriff Ray Loera.
Loera says thanks to Operation Desert Guardian the accused men believed to be responsible for the exploitation attempt are in custody. Local and regional agencies united to stop the suspects from coming into physical contact with the Imperial Valley kids.
“San Diego Internet Task Force that deals specifically with this and has been able to assist us in detecting these types of crimes,” said Loera.
After a nine-day investigation authorities closed in on the suspects. One of which is Jesus Echeverria from San Diego is a national guardsman.
“He was here on active duty for the days when he was arrested,” said ICSO Sergeant Jimmy Duran.
Local veteran Edward Castillo-Rubio was upset to hear the active-duty service member is tied to the child sex crime case.
“When they use that military background as a means of seducing little kids and all that – that is just horrible. To me it is a – it destroys the meaning of the uniform that they wear,” said Castillo-Rubio.
A second suspect, Darryl Bunney, from Canada is believed to be a frequent winter visitor.
Authorities said not all the men went down without a fight. Sergeant Duran said suspect Erick Ramirez crashed into a tree as he tried to escape during his arrest.
“He actually fled the area when the officers were getting ready to contact him. His vehicle ended up colliding with a tree,” said Duran.
Another suspect, Braulio Carrillo, was said to be found with methamphetamine on him for which authorities say he will also be charged.
Sheriff Loera credits the close working relationship of law enforcement agencies for stopping these men from coming close to the victims. He warns parents to be aware of how their kids’ use the web and what they’re searching.
“They have to be on top of them. They have to monitor what they’re doing,” Loera said.
The recent success of Operation Desert Guardian now has local authorities considering a full-time cyber task force targeting online predators.