An investigation into the reported extortion of nude photographs from a Marion Senior High School student by another MSHS student is still underway, though law enforcement don’t expect to find sufficient evidence to file charges.
The extortion was initially reported to MSHS Principal Mike Davidson on Friday along with a screenshot of part of a Snapchat conversation between the two students.
Smyth County Sheriff Chip Shuler said the investigation began Friday afternoon after a female student reported to Davidson that her former boyfriend had told her that if she did not continue to send him nude photographs he would rape her friends.
A purported screenshot of the conversation, which was posted to social media by an uninvolved party, does not capture a direct threat or an explicit admission of having made one, though the respondent in the conversation does not deny it was said.
Shuler said the incident was immediately turned over to the MSHS school resource officer for investigation into the reported extortion and into the distribution of child pornography.
According to Virginia law, it is illegal for any person, including a juvenile, to manufacture, possess or distribute child pornography even if the juvenile in the image is the person who created it. Law also mandates that school officials report any and all complaints or suspicions of child sex crimes to law enforcement for further investigation.
During the investigation, phones from both students were examined and interviews were conducted with multiple students. Shuler said on Monday that his office is exploring other avenues in the investigation to either verify or disprove the claims.
The sheriff noted that the screenshot of the conversation alone was not sufficient enough evidence to file charges.
Part of the allure of Snapchat to youth is the fact that messages sent through private chat automatically delete from the server once they’ve been viewed. That sometimes makes it difficult for law enforcement to obtain copies of messages sent through the app.
The sheriff discourages the use of the social media platform for that reason, noting that it is also a favorite of sexual predators and a hub for child porn.
Shuler previously said both students could possibly face child pornography charges in the incident. He’s since said that those charges are unlikely to be filed either. The photos were also reportedly exchanged via Snapchat.
Following public outcry on social media on Friday after the sheriff said no evidence of a threat to rape anyone had been found, investigators re-examined the information obtained in the initial report. Shuler said they again could not find sufficient enough evidence to file charges.
The sheriff said individuals with information in this or other investigations should report it directly to law enforcement and not post it to social media.
All evidence collected so far has been turned over to the Smyth County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.