ESCONDIDO, Calif. — A suspected Internet predator was arrested after he got off a plane in Florida with a missing boy from Escondido, police said Tuesday.
Tampa police and U.S. Marshals took Tony McLeod into criminal custody Monday evening after being notified by Escondido police that McLeod was on the flight from Los Angeles with the 14-year-old boy, Escondido police Lt. Neal Griffin said. Authorities took the boy into protective custody and he was expected to be returned to his family, Griffin said.
The boy’s parents called Escondido police Monday afternoon when he failed to return home from school, Griffin said. They were immediately concerned because they had recently found explicit texts and photos on their son’s phone and had reported the messages to police, Griffin said. Detectives established that the caller was located in the Tampa area.
The parents had called the phone from which the texts and photos had been sent and told the man who answered to stop communicating with their son, but the man shut down that phone and got a new cell phone, Griffin said.
When the boy was reported missing on Monday, Escondido detectives tracked the new phone and learned it was being used in the Long Beach area. They checked plane flights from the Los Angeles area and learned that a plane from Los Angeles was scheduled to land in Tampa Monday evening, Griffin said. They learned that McLeod was on the flight in the company of a juvenile male, so they contacted authorities in Tampa, who met the flight when it landed, Griffin said.
The boy told police that he first began communicating with McLeod in a Playstation chat room, Griffin said.
“It certainly is a classic case of online grooming by sexual predator,” said Griffin. “Predators use the internet as an opportunity to cast their net.”
“I think it should go as a warning that you cannot monitor your kids enough,” said Griffin. “When it comes to the Internet, when it comes to the cell phone, they literally have the world available to them.”
Anyone with information about this case has been asked to contact Escondido police Lt. Griffin at 760-839-4700 or San Diego FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth.