Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 8, 2013

Estrada touts film on dangers of online predators

Associated Press

BECKLEY — Although it’s easy to get swept up in American actor Erik Estrada’s charisma, he and the cast of the film “Finding Faith” came to Calvary Assembly of God in Beckley on Thursday with a serious message for parents and teens.

“Education is prevention. Be aware of who your kids are chatting with online and you need to express to them the dangers that are out there,” Estrada said. “That’s why we made this movie, for these young girls. So they won’t get taken.”

The film tells the true story of Holly Austin Smith, who was abducted from Bedford, Va., and was held captive for three days before being rescued by the police.

Estrada, who has been a sheriff’s deputy in Bedford County, Va., for nearly eight years and works closely with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, asks parents to keep their kids’ computers in a family room.

“Don’t let them go upstairs and lock themselves in their room and play on the computer. Put it where you can monitor their use,” he said.

West Virginia State Police Sgt. M.K. Summers, investigator with the Crimes Against Children Task Force, added that parents need to know each and every application on their childrens’ iPads and Smartphones.

One app, Snapchat, allows a teenager to send a picture and set it to automatically delete itself.

Summers said this might allow teens to feel more safe, but it is an ideal tool for predators and it’s often used by teens for cyber bullying and sexting.

“Ideally, this film will be an eye opener for everybody — parents and teenagers. This is a true story. It happens. It happened not too far from here and kids are approached by predators on the Internet every day around here,” he said.

Actor Jonathan Phillips, who plays the abductor in “Finding Faith,” said the FBI has indicated every teen active on the Internet has a 100 percent chance of being approached by an online predator.

The donations taken at the event go to pay for Identity Kits and “Cops in a Box” across the nation, he added.

Identity Kits are kits that contain a child’s fingerprints, voice recording, picture and other vital information that would jump-start an investigation if a child were abducted.

“Cop in a Box” is a special computer designed just for investigating child sex crimes by tracking online predators and pedophiles.

Estrada stayed to take pictures with fans and autograph copies of the movie after the film aired to hundreds of people at Calvary Assembly of God.

The actor, most known for his work on the 1970s TV series “CHiPs,” said being back on screen playing Sheriff Mike Brown of Bedford County, Va., was easy.

“I was a young boy that wanted to be a cop in New York City. When I was seven my mother’s boyfriend was a cop and he was my hero,” he said.

He ended up joining the drama club in school because he was “chasing a girl.”

RESA 1 sponsored the showing of “Finding Faith” and works with the West Virginia State Police in area schools to educate youth and parents about Internet safety.