The sad truth about the Internet is that predators are always prowling

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Over the years Operation Blue Ridge Thunder has taken its share of criticism. In fact, during the last sheriff’s race, Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown was often taken to task by claims from opponents that he brought criminals into the community through the effort, because of the nature of the program. Last week’s events in Bedford County should put a halt to such talk.

    Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, which works under the auspices of the Sheriff’s Office, has as its mission to work “to apprehend predators, protect potential victims and educate parents, teachers and children about Internet safety.” It’s a cause worth supporting.

    Last Tuesday, the sheriff’s office was called to look for a missing 13-year-old girl in the eastern part of the county off Evington Road. Efforts to locate the girl went on for a day before she and a male companion turned up at a home in the area, asking to use the phone. The man that she was with was 21-year-old  Andrew Fitzgerald Holloway of Rhode Island. He had traveled all the way down to Bedford County to meet the girl and the two allegedly had plans to go to Canada or Arizona. He has been charged with three counts of carnal knowledge, a Class IV felony, and two counts of communicating online with a female under the age of 15 years old for the purpose of soliciting carnal knowledge, a Class IV felony.

    The two had met while playing an X-Box online game. Holloway will get his day in court, but the bottom line of the incident is that there are predators all over the Internet and the efforts of Blue Ridge Thunder and other similar units play a vital role in helping locate those predators before they have a chance to do what Holloway is accused of doing. There should be no question about the importance of these efforts.

    The Bedford Bulletin recently received a letter from one such convicted criminal from a Blue Ridge Thunder case, a letter that we aren’t going to publish. It’s author pleaded guilty last January to four counts of computer solicitation of sex with a minor and four counts of attempted indecent liberties with a minor, but he claimed in the letter that he was enticed into the crimes by officers from the Blue Ridge Thunder unit. The truth, however, is just the opposite. Transcripts of his chats with the officer from Blue Ridge Thunder show that right from the start he was aggressively seeking to have a sexual encounter with someone he thought to be a 13-year-old girl. He attempted to set up several encounters with the girl and on the day he was arrested thought the girl had come to meet him for such an encounter. The language he used in those chats with the officer can’t be repeated here because of its graphic nature. Suffice it to say, it was sexual, it was explicit and it was aggressive. In short, it was criminal.

    The sad truth is those types of predators live here in Bedford County, they live in Rhode Island, they live in California and they can be found everywhere in between. They’ll pursue innocent children across the county or across the country. Efforts to catch them before they make such a trip play a vital role in law enforcement in the 21st century. And efforts to educate children and their parents about the predators and how they work is just as important.

    Operation Blue Ridge Thunder  is comprised of a cooperative group of law enforcement agencies on the international, federal, regional, state and local levels. Its stated mission is to safeguard our children from Internet crime by weaving a seamless web of protection around them, across the nation and around the globe. As its Web site notes: “A child’s innocence can never be replaced."

    As long as the Internet exists, Operation Blue Ridge Thunder vows to be patrolling cyberspace to keep it safe from predators seeking to rob children of their innocence. Those efforts are applauded and deserve our support.