Ashley Reynolds was a happy 14-year-old who loved sports, did well in school academically and socially, and enjoyed keeping a journal she intended her “future self” to read. But what happened in the summer of 2009 was so devastating that she couldn’t bring herself to record it in her diary—or speak about it to anyone.
She had become the victim of sextortion, a growing Internet crime in which young girls and boys are often targeted. Her life was being turned upside down by an online predator who took advantage of her youth and vulnerability to terrorize her by demanding that she send him sexually explicit images of herself.
After several months, Ashley’s parents discovered what was happening and contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Ashley and her parents later supported the FBI investigation that led to the arrest of 26-year-old Lucas Michael Chansler, who last year pled guilty to multiple counts of child pornography production and was sent to prison for 105 years—but not before he used the Internet to victimize nearly 350 teenage girls.
The majority of those youngsters have not yet been identified.
That’s why the FBI is requesting the public’s help—and why Ashley has come forward to tell her story—so that Chansler’s victims can be located and will know, as Special Agent Larry Meyer said, “that this dark period of their lives is over.”
Meyer, a veteran agent in the FBI’s Jacksonville Division who investigates crimes against children, explained that 109 of Chansler’s victims have been identified and contacted so far, leaving approximately 250 teens “who have not had closure and who probably haven’t obtained counseling and other help they might need.” He noted that Ashley is a brave person with a supportive family “and has been able to use this experience to make her stronger.” Unfortunately, that has not been the case for all the girls, some of whom have dropped out of school and tried to end their lives.
Chansler, who was studying to become a pharmacist, used multiple personas and dozens of fake screen names—such as “HELLOthere” and “goodlookingguy313”—to dupe girls from 26 U.S. states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. And he used sophisticated techniques to keep anyone from learning his true identity.
Pretending to be 15-year-old boys—all handsome and all involved in skateboarding—he trolled popular online hangouts to strike up relationships with teenage girls. In one instance on Stickam, a now-defunct live-streaming video website, evidence seized from his computer showed four girls all exposing their breasts. “The girls are apparently having a sleepover, and Chansler contacted one of them through a random online chat,” Meyer said. “These girls thought they were having a video chat session with a 15-year-old boy that they would never see or hear from again, so they are all exposing themselves, not realizing that he is doing a screen capture and then he’s coming back later—very often in a different persona—saying, ‘Hey I’ve got these pictures of you, and if you don’t want these sent to all your Myspace friends or posted on the Internet, you are going to do all of these naked poses for me.’” Don’t Become a Victim of Sextortion
Special Agent Larry Meyer and other investigators experienced in online child sexual exploitation cases offer these simple tips for young people who might think that sextortion could never happen to them:
- Whatever you are told online may not be true, which means the person you think you are talking to may not be the person you really are talking to.
- Don’t send pictures to strangers. Don’t post any pictures of yourself online that you wouldn’t show to your grandmother. “If you only remember that,” Meyer said, “you are probably going to be safe.”
- If you are being targeted by an online predator, tell someone. If you feel you can’t talk to a parent, tell a trusted teacher or counselor. You can also call the FBI, the local police, or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline.
- You might be afraid or embarrassed to talk with your parents, but most likely they will understand. “One of the common denominators in the Chansler case,” Meyer noted, “was that parents wished their daughters had told them sooner. They were very understanding and sympathetic. They realized their child was being victimized.”
When FBI agents interviewed Chansler after his arrest, they asked why he selected that age group. “One of the comments he made,” Meyer said, “was that older girls wouldn’t fall for his ploy.”
The next few months were a nightmare as Ashley complied with Chansler’s demands. She was trapped and felt she couldn’t talk to anyone. She kept thinking if she sent more pictures, the monster at the other end of the computer would finally leave her alone. But it only got worse—until the day her mother discovered the images on her computer.
When investigators executed a search warrant at Chansler’s Jacksonville house and examined his computer, they found thousands of images and videos of child pornography. They also found folders labeled “Done” and “Prospects” that contained detailed information about the nearly 350 teens he had extorted online.
But approximately 250 victims are still unidentified and may have no idea that Chansler was arrested and sent to jail. Ashley Reynolds, who was a victim of Lucas Michael Chansler’s sextortion scheme, hopes her story helps prevent other teens from falling for similar ploys.
For her part, Ashley hopes that talking about what she went through will resonate with young girls. “If it hits close to home, maybe they will understand. High school girls never think it will happen to them,” she said. “I never thought this would happen to me, but it did.”