TORONTO — An Ontario woman is speaking out for the first time after learning that a 40-year-old Bowmanville, Ont. man was allegedly using her photo to lure underage children through social media, and police say more alleged victims have come forward.
The Durham Region woman, who spoke to Global News under condition of anonymity, said she discovered her photo in various media outlets on Tuesday at about 12:30 p.m. when a friend sent her a private Facebook message.
“I was mortified when I read it … I immediately called the police and notified them that it was my photo,” the woman said, adding that she has had to take a few days off of work due to the stress of the situation.
“I feel like just sick to my stomach thinking that someone could do something like that with my photos, I never thought that this could happen to me — just thinking that your photos and your information are safe and they’re not. You just never know who can get a hold of them and what they can do with the stuff that you’re posting online.”
York Regional Police said the woman came forward on Tuesday to inform them that her photo was apparently being used by Donald Richards, 40, who has been charged with two counts of luring a person under the age of 16 by means of telecommunications. He appeared in court in Newmarket Tuesday.
Police began their investigation in November 2015 after the mother of a 12-year-old boy from York Region reported finding inappropriate chats on his social media account.
Investigators determined the 12-year-old boy had been contacted on Facebook by a person posing as “Jennifer Jackson,” who initiated conversation with the boy by complimenting him on his appearance and asking him to upload a photo of himself.
Police said that as the chats and “online grooming activity” continued over time, they became sexual in nature. They then determined that Jennifer Jackson was a fake profile that was allegedly being operated by Richards.
On Feb. 11, police executed a search warrant at the man’s home, took him into custody without incident and seized several electronic devices.
“I know exactly how he got a hold of the photos and I definitely never gave anyone permission to take them,” the alleged victim said.
“I never gave anyone permission to use them and I was shocked and mortified that this could even happen and that someone could do such a horrible thing and commit such a horrible crime using my photos. It just makes me sick thinking about it.”
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Police said they believed the child’s name was obtained by the accused through his part-time employment at snack shops in various hockey arenas in the Oshawa area.
Investigators said Thursday that Richards may have obtained alleged victims’ names and contact information from team rosters posted around the various hockey rinks he worked at, or from the backs of children’s hockey jerseys.
“We’re still investigating that but those are possible ways in which our investigators feel he may have gotten the names,” said Const. Andy Pattenden, adding that two other alleged victims have since come forward to police.
“We’ve had a number of calls, but two of which are possibly victims, that’s still going to be an ongoing investigation, as well as the person whose picture is from Facebook — so three potential people so far.”
Investigators are concerned that there may be more victims who were contacted by the accused using the same Facebook profile name — Jennifer Jackson — and said earlier this week they believed the photo may have been from anywhere in the world and were surprised to hear the woman was from Durham Region.
“They had no idea that it was someone in the area especially, they just thought that it was going to be some random photo that maybe the person had taken off of the Internet,” the woman said.
“It was very stressful because I was the main focal point of a negative story. My face was the first thing people saw when they were reading this awful story. So, seeing my face plastered all over all of the news and all of the online articles and everything it was just kind of mortifying that way.”
The alleged victim said she understood why police released the photo and is glad that more alleged victims had come forward because of it.
“Moving forward, I just hope that people can just focus on him as the bad person, he’s the one that committed the crime, he’s the one that should be the main focal point — not me,” she said, adding that she had received a “tremendous amount of support” from family and friends during the past few days.
“I think they’re shocked just as much as I was that this happened and they were obviously upset that my photo was being used and put out there for the whole world to see but again there was a reason behind it so it wasn’t done intentionally to hurt anyone, it was just to try and find if there were more victims from what this man was doing.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the York Regional Police Internet Child Exploitation Unit at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7078, contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS, leave an anonymous tip online athttp://www.1800222tips.com, or text your tip to CRIMES (274637) starting with the word YORK.
Police provided this list of arenas where Richards was believed to have been working:
- Donevan Recreation Complex — 171 Harmony Rd., Oshawa
- Oshawa Civic Recreation Complex — 99 Thornton Rd., Oshawa
- Harman Arena — 829 Douglas St., Oshawa
- Oshawa Children’s Arena — 155 Arena St., Oshawa