(Update: Adding video, comments from police, KIDS Center)
Undercover officer continued exchanges; police concerned there could be other young victims
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – This week's arrest of a La Pine man for explicitly luring a minor looking for a job serves as a reminder about online safety. He was caught by officers and accused of sending inappropriate messages to a teen.
Police began investigating John Matthew Cooper, 54, on Feb. 23, suspected of luring the minor after she reported her prospective boss was texting her sexually explicit and inappropriate messages, Bend Police's Communication Manager Sheila Miller said.
Miller said when someone comes forward, it provides an opportunity for officers to take over their phone and gather more evidence.
"We want kids, when they find something uncomfortable or scary, to reach out to a trusted adult," she said.
Investigators learned the La Pine teen had posted on social media, seeking employment, Miller said.
Cooper allegedly responded to the post and offered her part-time office work at his Sunriver business, Cooper Racing and Repair, then began messaging her in a sexually suggestive manner, Miller said.
The 17-year-old reported to her mother that she was uncomfortable.
"In this situation, it was mom, and mom turned it over to law enforcement," she said.
Bend Police officers, assisting the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, continued messaging with Cooper, who believed he was still communication with 17-year-old, Miller said.
KIDS Center is a Bend nonprofit that helps investigate child abuse cases, treats young victims and trains the community on how to spot potential abuse.
Prevention Education Manager, Rachel Visser, explains how different social media platforms are much the same.
"The platforms that are going to be the safest are going to be the ones where you're allowed to put limitations on them, where you're allowed to turn off location settings, where it's not so much the platform itself," Visser said. "It's how the user engages with them."
She said there are three main ways to protect yourself online: The first thing is to make sure your account is private -- keeping your account and messaging private. The second is to turn your locations off for social media platforms, so people can't track where you're at at every point of the day. And to avoid over-sharing of personal and private information.
For teens, it's important to keep an open line of communication with an adult, similar to the teen who in this case turned to her mom when she became uncomfortable.
"The adults are going to be able to know about what's new and what's upcoming, and then be able to talk about ways to say stay safe," Visser said.
As the investigation continued, Cooper allegedly offered the girl alcohol, sent her explicit photos and requested explicit photos and sexual favors, the police spokesman said. He also indicated he’d had other teens work for him in the past, including customers’ daughters.
Police arrested Cooper around 11 a.m. Thursday at his business on Venture Lane, near Sunriver Resort, Miller said. He was booked into the county jail in Bend and held without bail pending arraignment on charges of second-degree online sexual corruption of a child, luring a minor for sexual conduct and attempted use of a child in display of sexual conduct.
Because Cooper reported he often hired young people to work for him, Bend Police are concerned there could be other victims, Miller said. Anyone who may have had inappropriate contact with Cooper was asked to call the non-emergency dispatch line, 541-693-6911 and reference case No. 23-00011214.
Last year, officers were a part of a four month temporary project, posing as teens and arresting people for luring. Miller said it was so successful, they might do it again.