UPDATE: Three Chinook Middle School students were each formally charged in juvenile court Friday with dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Lacey police arrested two of the students, a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, at Chinook on Tuesday as part of an investigation that the 14-year-old boy had sent naked photos of his 14-year-old ex-girlfriend from his cell phone to the 13-year-old girl. Another female student also was charged Friday as part of the investigation.
Thurston County Prosecutor Rick Peters said Thursday it is the first so-called "sexting" case to cross his desk.
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LACEY - Lacey police arrested two Chinook Middle School students Tuesday - a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl - for allegedly sending photo messages of a naked 14-year-old girl to classmates via a cell phone.
The students were arrested at Chinook on suspicion of dealing in depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. They were released from juvenile detention Wednesday after their hearings in Thurston County Juvenile Court.
Thurston County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rick Peters said that it is the first case involving alleged “sexting” to cross his desk. He said he plans to file charges against the pair today.
“Technically, they’re in possession of child pornography,” Peters said. “Based upon the ages of all the kids involved, it’s tragic.”
Dealing in depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct is a class C felony, and a conviction carries a requirement to register as a sex offender. For students with no prior criminal history, the charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in juvenile detention, Peters said. Neither of the students arrested Tuesday has a criminal history.
The investigation is continuing and includes a third female suspect who could face a criminal charge in juvenile court, Peters said.
“This is a huge concern for law enforcement,” he said.
The investigation has revealed that the 14-year-old boy previously dated the 14-year-old girl, Lacey Police Lt. Jim Mack said. After they broke up, the boy sent a message with the nude photo of the former girlfriend to a 13-year-old girl, Mack said. The 13-year-old girl transmitted the photo to another girl, and the photo has spread quickly to students throughout the school district, Mack said.
“People just kind of started sharing it,” he said. “We hope that people wouldn’t engage in this type of activity.”
The investigation is focusing on students who have forwarded the photo to others, not all students who received it, Mack said.
Mack said the offending photo was taken in a mirror by the alleged victim.
A number of Chinook students’ cell phones have been seized as evidence by the Lacey Police Department, Peters said.
Mack and prosecutors emphasized Thursday that parents need to talk with their children about not sending inappropriate messages from their cell phones. Parents also need to be aware of their children’s behavior regarding use of technology, such as laptop computers and other social media, he said.
“It’s something we see a lot more nowadays,” Mack said.
Chinook Principal Kirsten Rae sent a letter home to parents Thursday stating that “sexting” is a serious crime.
Peters said “it’s a terrible lesson to learn” for the students who now find themselves in juvenile court.
“This isn’t a joke,” he said.