Sexting investigation started with student seeking help

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PARKER, Colo. -- The principal of Chaparral High School in Parker revealed the recent criminal investigation into sexting among students was initiated when the victim went to the school's counselor.

Douglas County Sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant Tuesday, seizing the phones of four students.

A sheriff's department representative said investigators want to prevent the sexually explicit photos--if such photos exist--from going viral on the Internet.

"Do I think this happens at Chaparral high? Yes. Do I think it happens at other schools? Absolutely,” says Chaparral Principal Ron Peterson.

But Peterson says sexting doesn’t always lead to a criminal investigation.

“The counselor had spoken with this student. And as soon as there were some concerns about the inappropriateness of pictures being on cell phones, she got an administrator involved,” he says.

Then, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department seized the students’ cell phones just before school ended.

But the sheriff’s department says it hasn’t yet looked at the content on the phones.

The school district says it tries to educate students about the potential dangers of sexting through cyber safety courses at the beginning of each school year.

“The intention was to share something with one other person. I don’t think they (students) think of the consequences of it being shared with a multitudes and it getting out into cyberspace,” says the district’s Student Wellness Coordinator Leslie Clemensen.

“Working with teens, sometimes it can be an impulsive kind of thing. Just something, you know, they wouldn’t do in other circumstances. But they chose to press that ‘send’ button and off it goes,” says Clemenson.

“It’s traumatizing because there doesn’t seem to be a clear beginning or an end to it. It perpetuates and goes on and on,” says child psychologist Dr. Sheryl Ziegler.

Ziegler says parents should talk to their kids about the real risks of sexting.

“Tell them how it can affect their education. Teachers might see it, their friends, their colleagues might see it, and people at church might see it. It might even affect their employment,” says Ziegler.

Some Chaparral students say they know those risks—especially criminal.

“I'm intelligent enough to say if I did (get a sexual text), I wouldn’t tell anyone about it,” says Chaparral senior Matt Guerrero.

Instead, he says he’d delete it.

“If someone decided to go through my phone and they find it, I could be held accountable for it. Regardless of whether I asked for it or not, or even know the person,” says Guerrero.

“They don’t think about their actions before they do it. And it’s just stupid,” says Chaparral student Matthew Server.

And some parents aren’t all that surprised.

“It’s just a different format of something that’s always been around,” says Matt’s mom, Tresa.

The school hopes to turn the attention of this case into a lesson of what can happen in real life.

“Kids make mistakes, so do adults. So, we learn from those,” says Peterson.

The district says one way to prevent your kids from sexting is to randomly check their cell phones—look at their texts and photos.

Also, keep their computer in a public room at home—not in their bedroom.

Potential charges in the case include sexual exploitation of a child, which is a felony.

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