When danger lurks online

Young woman using laptop by night
Young woman online finding more than she bargained for.

The murder of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell of Blacksburg is a harsh reminder of the dangers posed to the young online.

She was a child who faced bullying at school because of her pudginess and scars from surgeries.  She found a fantasy, danger and death in an Internet world where predators swarm.

Her online fantasies also appeared to provide some solace from a young reality where she survived a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a liver transplant and predictions that she would die from her ailments.

The often dark world she frequented on her computer screen also brought more intense bullying and very real danger. In the end, it appeared the fantasies attracted a murderer.

David Eisenhauer, an 18-year-old Virginia Tech freshman and budding college track star, is charged with her murder and Natalie Marie Keepers, 19, a female Tech sophomore, is implicated and charged with involvement in disposal of Lovell’s body,

020316onlineThe threats to Lovell came from online contacts.  She wrote detailed essays about an imagined social life that included dating and love.  She sprinkled the writings with details about where the lived.

At a high school assembly sponsored by Safe Surfing last month at Floyd County High School, a Christiansburg detective who investigates online threats told students to avoid revealing too much about themselves on social media sites like Facebook.

Before the first assembly, a student asked: “Is this more of the same old crap?”

I heard a similar line from another student in town later that same week.

“This is no big deal,” she said.  “It’s something people in your generation worry about.  We don’t.  We know how to deal with such things.”

Nicole Lovell most likely did not know how to deal with the threats she faced.  She used Kik, a site that she and other kids thought protected anonymity but initial indications show she still revealed too much about herself to someone who was not who he pretended to be.

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On Kik, Nixole was not a pudgy 13 year old with scars from  a liver transplant but a freewheeling teenager who dated, flirted and had fun with boys.

But her fantasies did not keep her hidden from danger. Sources within the investigation say evidence suggests she and Eisenhauer met online but also shared intimacies and physical contact.

It is easy — too easy — to look up personal information on just about anyone online.  Fake personas abound.  So do real predators and danger. Social media sites Facebook is a portal into personal lives and information.  People post their date of birth, their pace of birth, the name of their schools and far too much information about where they live.

A Floyd County father told me recently that he and his wife discovered their under 18 year old daughter had posed in skimpy bikinis and racy undergarments that were posted on sites like Tumblr.

A high school sophomore who just turned 16 says “it’s no big deal.  We aren’t hung up about naked bodies like you older folks are.”

“No big deal.”  We hear that a lot from kids these days.  It’s no big deal to them.

Initial reports say Nicole Lovell wrote about her imaginary active social life and boyfriends online.  Evidence suggests she pushed a chest to her bedroom window to sneak out of her house on January to turn a fantasy into a reality.

Such abductions are an increasing reality in a world where fantasies collide with threats, violence and death.

It is a very big deal.

(Updated with additional information.)

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