The FBI used a Nintendo Switch console to locate an abducted 15-year-old girl, who had been missing for 11 days back in August 2022, Forbes reports.
In a horrendous case involving kidnap and sexual exploitation, a teenage girl was found and rescued only after she logged online with her Nintendo Switch.
The unidentified Virginian teenager is a homebody, said family and friends, and unlikely to run away. However, she met a stranger—then 28-year-old Ethan Roberts—on the online chatting platform Omegle in January 2022, when she was just 14 years old. The two talked for a few days, then moved their conversation to Discord and Snapchat. Roberts sent nudes of himself to the girl and requested explicit images of her as well, to which she complied. Later, Roberts traveled 2,000 miles from his apartment in Tolleson, Arizona to the young girl’s hometown. Their encounter culminated in Roberts kidnapping the girl and bringing her back to Arizona. Roberts coerced the teen, “insisting” she meet strangers on Omegle to sell them nudes via Snapchat between August 3, 2022 and August 14, 2022, according to court documents viewed by Kotaku.
When the girl went missing on August 3, folks in Virginia put up fliers to locate her. Keitra Coleman, a volunteer with the local nonprofit Hear Their Voices (which helps find missing and exploited children, domestic violence victims, and people experiencing homelessness), told ABC15 they were on the case.
“We immediately reached out to her family and spoke with her grandmother and her stepdad, and that next day, we were out there ‘boots on the ground.’” Coleman said. “She went through a lot in those few days [and] reminded me so much of my daughter.”
Unfortunately, no one was able to pinpoint her location—until the girl booted up her Nintendo Switch to watch YouTube videos and download a game. A friend saw that she was online and informed the authorities. With Nintendo’s cooperation, the FBI culled the Switch’s IP address, uncovered her location, and moved in to arrest Roberts. Retired Arizona DPS Director Frank Milstead, who was not involved with the case, told ABC15 that police agencies often use digital device tracking info to apprehend suspected criminals and find missing people.
“It’s probably nothing anybody even had thought of at this point,” Milstead said. “The fact that somebody else down the road—another child—was bright enough to go, ‘Hey, look, my friend is online, and she’s been missing, and I need to tell somebody.’ Everything’s connected to Wi-Fi [and] LTE (long-term evolution devices). A cell phone, an iPad, a watch, whatever it is—you can use those things to locate people. The bad guys need to know that the police are watching and that you’re leaving a digital footprint everywhere you go. We will find you.”
In an email to Kotaku, an FBI representative said this case is proof that no one can escape the agency’s wide reach and expansive resources.
“Thanks to the local police department’s quick response and FBI Norfolk’s ingenuity, we were able to locate the missing victim through her gaming account and reunite her with her family,” the FBI representative said, linking to a press release on the incident. “As the world evolves, so does the FBI and how we solve cases. This is just one example of that. And while criminals might think crossing state lines will help them get away, this case also serves as a reminder that because of the FBI’s wide reach and partnership with local law enforcement—these predators will be caught, and they will pay the consequences.”
Kotaku reached out to Nintendo for comment.
Roberts was indicted on four counts, including online enticement of a minor, transportation of a minor, and receipt of child pornography. He made a plea deal and has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison this past April.
Update 07/17/23 2:25 p.m. ET: Added comment from FBI.