An Amber Alert for a missing 12-year-old ended with a 22-year-old arrested and accused of sex crimes on Sunday.
Apple Briscoe allegedly ran away from home at about 1:00 a.m. Sunday and asked 22-year-old William Dela Cruz to pick her up.
The two had met months before on an online video game called Onigiri and were in a relationship.
“It’s like this paradox,” said Lissa Behm-Morawtiz, an associate professor of communications and mass media at the University of Missouri. “We know less about the person we’re talking to online, but we feel like we know them better than anyone else we’ve ever communicated with.”
According to the FBI, the two communicated outside the game by Facebook Messenger, Skype and an app called DISCORD that features free voice and text options for those involved in gaming culture.
Court documents say “some of the messages were explicitly sexual in nature to include discussion about masturbation and sex with each other.”
“There’s just so many red flags in the situation,” said Detective Tracy Perkins with the Boone County Cyber Crimes unit.
Behm-Morawitz said adolescents are in a state of heightened identity exploration and are oftentimes enticed by internet predators.
“When you’re in this state, you’re just trying to figure out who you are and then you meet someone who reaffirms how wonderful you are and tells you wonderful things about yourself,” she said. “I think that’s a recipe for some adolescents making some choices that might not be the best.”
“What happens the younger you get, the naiveness you have, the conversation starts leading to a point where they are believable, they’re likable, they’re trustworthy,” said Perkins. “It turns into more of a potentially romantic or intriguing conversation where it entices them to get away from their problems and they begin to have a lust or a like of the person.”
In an interview with FBI agents, Briscoe said that she told Dela Cruz when she ran away from home Sunday morning and so he and his brother went to pick her up.
The brother, Jason Dela Cruz, eventually left the two in Wentzville and turned himself in in Ohio. He cooperated with police and said he left because he was nervous about Briscoe’s age.
William Dela Cruz said in an interview with agents that he got a Facebook friend request from Briscoe’s mother and learned that she was 12, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing Briscoe.
“They’re not wanting you to come out and have ice cream with them. Don’t be naive and don’t be silly about this,” said Perkins. “I have to just always preach that parents have to be involved in their child’s life no matter if it’s a game app.”