MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A man created a Facebook group that he said aims to protect the kids of Horry County, and he spoke exclusively to WMBF News about his mission.
“Quarantine got to me and I saw some YouTubers that do this and I thought there’s no way it could be that easy. So I decided to give it a try,” PANDA told WMBF News in an exclusive interview.
He keeps his identity anonymous to protect himself and his family. PANDA stands for “Parents Against Not Doing Anything.”
The Facebook group, PANDA Patrol Carolinas, was created just three weeks ago and already has almost 7,000 members. It’s gaining traction and people are wanting to help.
The man who began it has hundreds of people following, applauding and wanting to help his cause.
“I have thousands of members on my page and a lot of them have reached out. A lot of them have reached out telling me how appreciative they are of what I’m doing. And it’s about time somebody stepped up," PANDA said.
He said after getting the idea from YouTube, he started posing as a teenage decoy in chat rooms. From there, he said he doesn’t post anything inappropriate until the other person does.
“I make sure I bring up my age. I am the decoy. And the second I tell them my age you think they would stop messaging. And they don’t. I have hundreds of messages of people who just didn’t stop messaging. They wanted more, they wanted to know more info. Any decent human being or grown man with a family would block, delete and report that page instantly. That’s not what these guys are doing," PANDA explained. “I’ve gotten photos, some have agreed to purchase condoms and that’s how we’re going to meet, while he’s buying condoms for a 14-year-old. It’s definitely sexually charged conversation.”
PANDA sets up a meeting with these men and women. He said women haven’t followed through yet, but men have. He then confronts them live on Facebook.
PANDA said he’s posted Facebook Live videos of five to seven men he’s confronted.
From there, he said, he turns what he knows over to police. While PANDA’s intentions are good, the attorney general’s office said to leave catching the criminals to law enforcement.
“We’re concerned. It’s very dangerous for the people involved. You don’t know who you’re confronting here. They may be armed and it also could interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation. You don’t know. So it could actually, from a legal standpoint, mess up something that’s already in the works,” attorney general spokesperson Robert Kittle said. “We understand completely why parents might want to do this and we encourage parents to be involved, whether it’s monitoring their children’s online activities or just being aware of everything that they do to protect them from human trafficking. We want parents to do that, but this is not something they should take on themselves.”
The PANDA page has hundreds of comments from supporters offering to aid PANDA in decoy conversations, buying t-shirts for the cause and to also help edit video.
PANDA said he was laid off from work because of the pandemic and this helps keep him busy now.
He has a daughter and said he does it to protect children like her.
“Every second that I put this mask on and I walk out my front door, I’ve got family behind me that worry about what I’m doing and I’m petrified. But it’s got to be done to put the message out," he said of his safety. “I want to make a difference for her and everybody’s kids out there. Everyone shares the hashtag ‘saveourchildren.’ And that’s a cry for help, you’re asking for someone else to do it. I figure if someone’s got to do, it why not?”
Kittle said he’s never heard of someone locally trying to catch pedophiles on their own. He said it opens opportunities for many things to go wrong.
“Let’s say, for example, local law enforcement is already looking at a specific person and is monitoring that person, watching their online activities and they’re already building a case. Then if this group puts an ad somewhere and this guy answers it, and then they do something that scares them off and then he just takes off. They can’t arrest him. He gets spooked and leaves town, leaves the state and the investigation is over," Kittle said.
Kittle also explained there’s certain legal requirements and civilians might not follow them, leading to the case being jeopardized. There’s also an issue of entrapment and how evidence is gathered and held up in court.
To keep your kids as safe as possible, Kittle said communication is key.
“Monitor your children’s online activities,” he said.
Kittle said to keep the computer in a common area, cover up the webcam on the computer and monitor activity.
He added that knowledge is key for your children on how to stay safe.
“You don’t say, ‘Oh, cars are dangerous, streets are dangerous so never go near it.’ You have to teach them how to cross the street. So, at first, you’re with them and you hold their hand. You teach them how to cross the street and then over time, you let them do it on your own while you’re watching. Then when they’re old enough, they can do it on their own. So it’s the same thing online. Teach them what to look out for.”
You can learn more details from the attorney general here.