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Archive for Saturday, June 10, 2006

Teen headed home after MySpace rendezvous thwarted

U.S. agents in Jordan intercept 16-year-old girl

June 10, 2006

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— A 16-year-old honor student from Michigan tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then flew off to the Mideast to be with a West Bank man she met on MySpace. com, authorities say.

U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded her to turn around and go home before she reached the West Bank. She was on her way home Friday.

Katherine R. Lester is a straight-A student and student council member, her father said. "She's a good girl. Never had a problem with her," Terry Lester said.

MySpace.com is a social networking Web site with more than 72 million members that lets users post photos, blogs and journals. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.

Katherine disappeared Monday after talking her family into getting her a passport by saying she was going to Canada with friends, sheriff's officials said. She apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace account describes him as a 25-year-old from Jericho, Undersheriff James Jashinske said.

The FBI traced the teenager to a Wednesday flight from New York to Tel Aviv, Israel. At a scheduled stop in Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials persuaded her to return home, FBI agent Robert Beeckman said.

It was not immediately known when she would arrive back in the United States. Terry Lester said the family was keeping details of the return private.

Katherine apparently contacted the man from Jericho about three months ago, Jashinske said. Jericho, a city of 17,000, is a relatively calm area of the volatile West Bank.

MySpace forbids youngsters 13 and younger from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 - only people on their list of friends can view their profiles. Older users also have the option of restricting certain personal data so it can be seen only by people they have identified as friends.

Shawn Lester told The Saginaw News that her daughter has "never given me a day's trouble. ... I just don't understand with all these new laws protecting America how a 16-year-old kid could get out of the country." She said her daughter never had a boyfriend and seemed to be content with that.

The age of consent in Michigan is 16; Katherine turns 17 on June 21.

"I'll be honest with you, we don't know if a crime's been committed," Jashinske said.

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