FBI Says Chehalis District Was Warned of ‘Concern’ for Students in ‘Sextortion’ Case

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is challenging a statement from the Chehalis School District that cited a directive from the FBI as the reason the district didn’t take action to separate a boy from the estimated 20 classmates who were among the dozens of victims he allegedly solicited illicit photos from and extorted. 

“An FBI agent on multiple occasions emphasized concern for the safety of all students involved and recommended the school follow its applicable district policies for such matters,” according to a statement from the FBI sent to The Chronicle Thursday from Public Affairs Officer Ayn Dietrich-Williams. “The FBI did not provide any specific instruction on how the school should proceed, aside from advising that the school take the measures it deemed appropriate to keep students safe.”

A 16-year-old Chehalis boy is currently facing charges in Lewis County Juvenile Court including first-degree dealing in depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, first-degree possession of such images, and second-degree extortion. However, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office has filed a motion to charge the boy as an adult in Lewis County Superior Court and expects to file dozens more charges. 

The Chronicle does not name suspects charged in Juvenile Court.

Additional details on the nature of the alleged crimes — how the boy obtained the photos and what constituted extortion — won’t be available until the case is filed. 

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said in court Tuesday that as of early this week the suspect shared a class with at least one suspected victim at W.F. West High School. 

Meyer and Superior Judge Joely O’Rourke both expressed concern at that hearing that the boy was attending the same school as alleged victims. He was taken into custody Tuesday. 

“Regardless of what was said, something should have been done to protect the victims,” Meyer told The Chronicle Friday.

On Tuesday, the school district issued a statement. 

“The FBI directed the district to take no action, so as not to interfere with the investigation,” the statement read.

The district issued another statement Friday giving more information. 

“Last May, it was confirmed that the perpetrator was a Chehalis student, but the school district official was informed that no information related to the investigation was to be shared and it was indicated that the FBI would turn the matter over to the prosecuting attorney’s office,” the statement reads. 

School district officials were not given detailed information about which students were involved. 

“The FBI asked for the school’s cooperation to interview students. School district officials were never included in the interview process, but students were only interviewed if a parent was present. School officials were not involved in the interviews other than providing access to students and notifying parents. The District did not know whether any students were victims, witnesses or the perpetrator. Some parents declined the law enforcement interview and their students were not talked to.”

The suspect is accused of possessing hundreds of explicit images obtained through multiple social media accounts under aliases that he used in at least one case to pose as a female student in order to solicit explicit photos from a male student. He reportedly told investigators he sees himself as a “predator.”

“We still believe what we were told and we did what we normally do,” Chehalis School District Superintendent Ed Rothlin said Friday. 

The suspect is in custody in the Lewis County Juvenile Detention Center pending future hearings. He is scheduled to be in court again Oct. 24 to discuss the prosecutor’s office’s motion to charge him as an adult. 

Since the boy’s court hearing Tuesday, Meyer said he has received a 92-page FBI report on their investigation. 

He told The Chronicle the report identifies at least 20 victims among the boy’s classmates at W.F. West, twice the estimate he gave Tuesday. He estimated earlier this week that there could be 100 victims in total.

“Right now it looks like I could probably expand that list,” he said.