COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A 30-year-old Georgia man is facing several charges after Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputies said he crossed state lines to meet up with a 13-year-old girl he met on a dating website.
Derek Nelson, 30, is facing charges of criminal sexual conduct, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, sexual exploitation of a minor, solicitation to commit a felony, dissemination of obscene material to a person under 18 and failure to stop for blue lights.
Deputies said shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday, a deputy on patrol noticed a car sitting in the parking lot of a vacant business in the 4700 block of Alpine Road. When the deputy approached the car, he could see two people in the backseat having sex, one of which turned out to be Nelson. When he saw the deputy approaching the vehicle, Nelson allegedly jumped in the front seat and began driving away, leading deputies on a chase.
During the chase, the responding deputy said the car would often break suddenly, pull off onto the side of the road and stop for short periods of time. During that time, the deputy reported seeing what he thought were pieces of the car flying off into the air.
Eventually, the driver, later identified as Nelson, stopped his car and approached the deputy with only a t-shirt on. According to deputies, Nelson said he was “hooking up” with a girl he met online and told deputies she jumped out of the car when it had previously come to a stop. Deputies returned to the area to conduct a search and found the 13-year-old, who had injuries to her legs, arms, and hands. At the hospital, she told investigators Nelson pushed her out of the car after it had come to a stop.
Nelson told deputies he thought the girl was 18, but further investigation into text messages on the teen’s phone revealed Nelson was aware she was 13.
“The suspect is from Augusta, Georgia and he came up here specifically to see her, these people who prey on children online will drive from anywhere,” said investigator Shannon Kleynenberg. “He called her his girlfriend and she called him her 30-year-old boyfriend.”
As is standard protocol, RCSD notified the Department of Social Services of the incident and returned the teen to her family.
Deputies are calling on parents to play an active role in their children’s online activities, talking to their children about the potential dangers and utilizing parental controls online and on gaming systems.
“At 3 a.m., you should know your child is in bed if your child has a problem with escaping, you need to take measurements to prevent that and that’s on the parents,” Kleyenberg said.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said online child predators are everywhere and while the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is doing everything it can, parents need to ask more questions.
“You have got to teach your children about being good citizens and responsible citizens in the digital world and often our kids don’t feel the threats that are out there because their parents don’t feel the threats and don’t teach them about the threats,” he said.
The task force has grown exponentially over the last several years according to Wilson and he said that helps meet the growing need to combat child pornography, predators and human trafficking.
“Sometimes you have to be the disciplinarian, you have to be the bad guy in the scenario, but at the end of the day you’re paying for that cell phone, that WiFi, that interne and you’re responsible for what they do,” said Kevin Atkins, the Chief Criminal Investigator for the task force.
Wilson said education plays a vital role in ensuring children are using the internet safely, which he said can be done, as long as parents are engaged and exposing their children to the dangerous realities of what can happen online.
“Parents, your kids are going to get mad at you when you deny them something they want to do, but that’s your job, your job is to keep them from going over the cliff.”
Wilson said local organizations and schools interested in having members of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force talk to children and young adults about being safe online can do so by calling the SC Attorney General’s Office.