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Armed felon may have lured girl with church camp story, investigators say
After a local girl was rescued from a home in Florida last week, Dilley police are warning parents that sexual predators are luring children from dark corners of the internet.
According to a report on the case, the parents of a 15-year-old dropped their daughter off at San Antonio International Airport on Saturday, July 17, believing she was traveling to an organized camp.
It was not until five days later that the parents sought advice from a friend.
“The family told a family friend who then told us,” Dilley PD Investigator Adrian Ruiz said last Friday. “They said they had not had any conversations with their child. We were notified on Thursday, July 22, and immediately placed a call to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.”
The teen had told her parents she was traveling to Florida for an all-inclusive church camp.
Ruiz said family members were not concerned at first about the lack of communication with their daughter because they were tracking her phone and commented that she had been excited about attending the camp.
“They had been tracking her phone to places like the mall and other public areas,” Ruiz said. “But on Thursday they noticed it was at a residence and had not moved for nearly three hours.”
When Charlotte County sheriff’s deputies arrived at the home on Ohara Drive, they witnessed a man jumping from a couch in the front room and running to a back room.
The deputies were able to identify the owner of a white Buick that was parked in the driveway. The car owner was contacted and was able to communicate with the man in the home and persuade him to come to the front door.
The standoff lasted approximately seven hours.
Deputies soon learned that the man identified as 38-year-old Vincent Joseph Robusto was a convicted felon from Georgia.
Law enforcement officials learned in an interview with the teen that she had tried to open the door for police but that Robusto had held her back and demanded she remain quiet.
A report on the case says the girl told investigators that Robusto had picked her up, taken her to dinner and given her a vape pen containing an unknown substance.
The teen was not registered for the church camp.
Friends of the girl told investigators that they believed she had been communicating with the felon through a number of social media platforms, including a gaming system.
Charlotte County deputies executed a search warrant and discovered a semiautomatic handgun with eight rounds of ammunition.
Robusto remains in the Charlotte County Jail on charges of false imprisonment, interference with custody of a minor, possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon, and possession of drug paraphernalia and/or delivery to a minor. Bond has been set at $325,000.
“What we do not know yet is whether she knew this person to be the person he claimed to be or if he was claiming to be somebody else,” Ruiz said. “Luckily, we got her back safely before any more harm was done.”
Authorities have said that children are spending more time online because of the coronavirus pandemic and that investigations have shown that sexual predators take advantage of youths online.
Police say predators use sophisticated techniques to connect with young people wherever they can find them online and may impersonate a youth around the victim’s age. Predators are eventually able to persuade juveniles to send explicit pictures.
“As parents, our job is to protect our children from harm,” the investigator noted in a prepared statement after the arrest. “We buy these devices that are intended to keep them in touch with the world around them. COVID-19 has brought us a new wave of technology and the need for accessibility.”
Investigator Ruiz warns about the malicious intentions of predators who reach youths on social media platforms.
“The internet is vast and endless,” Ruiz said. “We sometimes, as a society, forget how influential access to certain types of information can be, especially to our youths. They are still learning, growing, and adapting. We need to be more cognizant of the access our children have to the internet and on the same token, who can access them.
Despite the fact that some of these devices like gaming consoles are meant for games that does not mean a predator cannot access your child through their PS5.”
If a device has a camera, if it has internet access or if it has a microphone, a child using the device can be targeted by predators, the investigator added.
“We are not recommending you taking all their devices,” Ruiz said. “Parents just need to be more diligent in checking activity and blocking access to inappropriate sites.
“Another extremely important factor that is often overlooked is geolocation,” he said. “Many apps use geolocation to access local weather, filters and maps, to name a few. Tagging, for instance, is such a trend. Everyone wants to be cool and post where they are. What these kids do not understand is that their geolocation is literally a map to their whereabouts and in the hands of a predator, it is a treasure map.”