Sheriff, school take on Lake Placid teen sexting scandal

- A group of middle school students in Highlands County could be in legal trouble after they sent nude selfies to each other, Sheriff Susan Benton said Wednesday.

The sheriff's office said it was notified February 10 after a Lake Placid Middle School student told a teacher about the images.

Benton said the investigation has uncovered nine students so far who have taken graphic pictures and, in one case, a video, and then shared them with other students.

"These are 12-to-14-year-olds who somehow -- by lack of knowledge, inexperience, risk-taking -- have taken photographs, very explicit sexual photographs, in the nude and they have gotten passed around to lots of students," Benton said. "It's beyond sexting, if you will, to the point where there's actually a consideration of child pornography involved."

The case is now with the Special Victims Unit and detectives are trying to determine the extent of the incident.

The sheriff said, while some of the students could face criminal charges, she would rather this be a tough lesson.

"This situation could impact them when start going for their first jobs, possibly even college interviews," she said, adding she has a concern that sexual predator could end up with images on social media. "Some of these predators might think, 'ah, here's a vulnerable one. Let me go get this one to meet me."

The school's principal held assemblies with each grade to try to put a stop to it and, this weekend, he'll meet with parents.

Some shared their thoughts on Facebook, with one mother urging people to "talk to your children." Another mom said she's "praying for parents."

The Sheriff is saddened by the ordeal.

"I immediately go to, gosh, what is that child feeling that they need to seek that kind of attention?" Benton said, adding she believes prosecutors might be more inclined to issue a citation and make the kids do community service.

Dr. Rodney Hollinger, Deputy Superintendent of Hilghlands County Schools, praised the principal's efforts to curb the explicit activity and said some students may face expulsion.

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