From Instagram and Snapchat to Kik and WhatsApp, the ways that sexual predators are targeting today’s youth are practically endless. Every month, it seems a new app or social media platform is surfacing that predators on the prowl can use to their advantage.
But a man from Hillsborough County, Florida even shocked authorities when they discovered he was using the YouVersion Bible App of all things to secretly contact underage girls in a local church youth group.
Thanks to the watchful eye of a concerned congregation member, Douglas Earl Kersey has been charged for unlawfully communicating with minors. The congregant had reportedly observed Kersey’s peculiar behavior online and notified the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after discovering that he was on the registered sex offenders list.
The fact that Kersey was only friend-requesting minors was another huge red flag.
The tipster told FDLE that Kersey was using the app touting over 350 million users worldwide to “befriend young teenage girls in their church and communicate with them online.”
“She’s a hero to me, she’s a real hero,” said Rev. Russell Meyer of the Lutheran Parish of Tampa (whose church was not involved). “Unfortunately it’s not surprising. There’s a world of nasty people who want young children and open platforms give them an open door to them.”
“So simply to say ‘well it’s a Bible program, nothing could go wrong’ misunderstands who is allowed to use them,” he added.
“It was unheard of for me and I’ve been with the sheriff’s office 21 years and been an investigator, school resource deputy,” said one of the detectives on the case, Theresa Grooms. “I did not even know that they could friend request and converse on that app.”
“It was very concerning,” Grooms continued. “You have young ladies that are meeting in a youth group to study the Bible, study the church activities and you have a registered sex offender who has projected himself into that group.”
Upon researching Kersey’s background, the FDLE discovered he failed to carry out one of the 22 stipulations sex offenders are required to adhere to. Kersey did not disclose his email addresses and social media profiles to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which is a 3rd-degree felony.
Kersey’s unlawful communication with minors dates back to 2013 when he spent three years in prison for “transmission of material harmful to minors and unlawful use of a two-way communication device.”
“I’m really happy to actually hear about the intervention that happened because too often we hear about something terrible that happened to a child too late,” said Rev. Meyer.
Detective Grooms has an important message for parents following the disturbing discoveries about Kersey:
“Be aware. Check their social media, check their phones, check their email addresses, check their friends. Then you have to double and quadruple check.”