An undercover investigation in Marion County last week resulted in the arrest of 20 online sexual predators trying to meet underage children for sex or sending explicit photos or messages.
They were caught by Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods and his team.
Lieutenant Paul Bloom, the public information director for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, said he is happy the investigation was a success, but is still disturbed by what these predators have done.
“It’s the stuff that parents have nightmares about,” said Bloom in a press conference Tuesday. “The ugly truth is that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we know that. [In] this operation, we caught a small portion of these evil predators. It was only a five-day-long operation, but still you see how many that were arrested.”
Bloom said the investigators were in online chatrooms posing as children to find these predators. Some only targeted one child while other predators targeted multiple children at once.
He said they came from multiple counties from around the state and ranged from 22 years old to 79 years old.
The lieutenant also said, because there are many more of these predators out there, parents must continue to strongly monitor their child’s online activity, even if it makes their child uncomfortable.
“Parents, pay attention,” said Bloom. “You raise your children, and you do all you can to keep them safe. You work hard at that. You make sure they wear their seat belts, they eat healthy food, they study for school tests, you try to avoid danger. You can’t let up just because they’re teenagers. You have to be their protector.”
He also said parents should monitor video game chats and any other online platforms that have direct message capabilities, as those are also outlets used by online sexual predators.
The sheriff’s office worked jointly with the Ocala Police Department, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement during the investigation.
Bloom said he and the sheriff’s office are thankful for their joint efforts.