Online Predator Investigation

By: Courtney Hayes
By: Courtney Hayes

Bay County sheriff's investigators say in the past two weeks the Panama City Target department store parking lot has been a meeting ground for at least two men seeking a sexual encounter with an underage girl.

The latest arrest came Tuesday night. Now, 21-year-old Timothy Tucker of Southport sits in the Bay County Jail on $5,000 bond.

Sheriff's investigators say Tucker chatted over the Internet with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl. In reality, the girl was actually an undercover cop. After about an hour of explicitly explaining what he wanted to do with the girl sexually, he decided to arrange to meet the girl at Target.

Authorities say Tucker's actions were almost exactly the same as those of a Panama City man they arrested last week. Thirty-year-old John Miller Martin was also arrested at the same Target. He has been released from the Bay County Jail on his own recognizance.

Inv. Jeremy Mathis is the man behind the 14-year-old girl, and he says the job's not easy.

"In their minds this is a real 14-year-old girl who they anticipate to have some kind of sexual contact with. That's what their thought is, so I don't look forward to coming to work, but it will hopefully make some kind of difference," says Inv. Mathis.

Mathis says parents need to take some simple precautions to protect their child. Some of those include keeping your commuter in a common room, using the parental controls that your Internet service provides, and maintain access of your child's online account, and don't be afraid to snoop.

Inv. Mathis is well trained for this kind of work. He says he never asks the men to arrange a meeting in a public place, and the suspect always approaches him first.

Mathis also makes it clear to the suspect that they're talking to someone underage, but he says most don't care.


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