Dilley – Dilley police said they are raising awareness about protecting children from predators online after a 15-year-old girl was lured to Florida by a 38-year-old man.
The teen was supposed to be at an all-inclusive church camp in Florida, but police said red flags went up after she stopped communicating with her family.
“The family told a family friend who then told us, saying they hadn’t had any conversations with the child,” said Officer Adrian Ruiz, with the Dilley Police Department. “We were notified on Thursday, the 22nd, and started investigating immediately.”
The family said that, at first, they were not concerned about the lack of communication.
“They were tracking her phone to places like the mall and other public areas, but it was when they started noticing she was going to a residence when they became worried,” Ruiz said.
The teen was soon found at a residence in Port Charlotte by the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, who also found Vincent Joseph Robusto.
Officials learned he was a convicted felon out of Georgia.
“What we don’t know yet is whether she knew this person to be the person they were claiming, or if he was claiming to be somebody else,” Ruiz said. “Luckily, we got her back safely before any more harm was done to this child.”
Ruiz said it all started from the two communicating through PlayStation Network and Snapchat.
“We are having instances where we have predators actively seeking these children out using these platforms, such as PlayStation, Instagram or Snapchat,” he said. “COVID has brought a new wave of technology and the need for accessibility. If they have a camera, if it has internet access and a microphone, your child can be a target.”
Ruiz said it is crucial for parents to know who their child is talking to online and where they are located at all times.
“As guardians, we need to be more diligent in checking their activity, blocking access to inappropriate sites,” Ruiz said. “Another extremely important factor that is overlooked is geolocation. Tagging, for instance, is such a trend. Everybody wants to be cool and post where they are. What they don’t understand is that their geolocation is a map of their whereabouts, and in the hands of a predator, it is a treasure map.”
Ruiz said children have a responsibility to be careful online and to report any activity that may be inappropriate or may make them feel uncomfortable. He added that parents have a responsibility too.
“Ask them who they are talking to,” he said. “Ask them who their friends are. Look for warning signs. If they are making plans to go out of state, ask who they are going with and why. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
The teen is back in Texas safely with her family.
Robusto is in the Charlotte County Jail facing five criminal charges, including false imprisonment of a person against their will, possession of drug paraphernalia delivery to a minor, and interference with custody of a minor.
His bond was set at $325,000.