Community Told Child-Porn Arrest Just Tip Of Iceberg

175 AT CCS FORUM

Community Told

Child-Porn Arrest

Just Tip Of Iceberg

Expert: Someone Doing It 10-15 Miles

Away, But Just Hasn’t Been Caught Yet

A forum for parents and community members at Cooperstown Central School’s Sterling Auditorium drew 175 intently interested audience members this evening. Here, they listened Beth Coombe, chief prosecutor of the Justin Hobbie case for the U.S. Attorney’s Albany office. (Jim Kevlin/www.AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Wendy Fical, program director, National Center of Missing & Exploited, paints a scary picture of child predation. She may be brought back for further consultation.

COOPERSTOWN – Cyberspace is a scary place.

“I’m very concerned about what I heard tonight,” grandmother Diane Koffer said during the Q&A that ended two hours of presentations and, at the end, intent public participation this evening in Cooperstown Central School’s Sterling Auditorium.

The reason the 175 people were there was to try and learn whether anything untoward had occurred at the school revolving around Justin Hobbie, the 13-year phys-ed teacher and coach arrested last Friday.  He was charged with receiving and distributing child pornography, some of it allegedly showing sexual acts between men and girls ranging from age 12 to as young as 3.

The question was not answered.  When Beth Coombe, the Albany-based U.S. Attorney’s prosecutor, was asked directly, she said: She can neither say Cooperstown children were involved, or that they were not involved.

Coombe said she is constrained by the continuing investigation of Homeland Security agents “poring through what they found” on raiding Hobbie’s Springfield Center home Dec. 6.

She did say that the suspect is in custody in Syracuse until at least until a detention hearing Wednesday, Dec. 19.  If he is then released, he will likely be prohibited from any contact with minors and ordered to stay away from the school.

Prosecutor Coombe said Hobbie is in custody, but may be released after a Dec. 19 detention hearing in Syracuse.

This evening, not just Koffer, but many attendees appeared to be learning about Kik, Fortnite, Snapchat and Minecraft for the first time.  And how any device, no matter how simple or innocent, can open the door to predators as long as they have WiFi, wireless connectivity.

And it’s grown so quickly.  In 2005, 10 percent of cases of preying on children occurred over the Internet. By 2007, it had leaped to 65 percent.  Today, it’s 98 percent, said Wendy Fical, program director, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

She told how a shy 8-year-old girl was befriended through a chat room associated with a drawing program by a predator posing as a contemporary.  It took two years, but “he convinced her to send naked photos of herself.”

Immediately, the images were disseminated over the Internet.  “It’s all about looking for content,” saleable content, Fical said.  “It’s a buy or sell industry.”

The Hobbie case may be a first to surface locally, but it’s just the beginning: “It’s happening in a town 10 or 15 miles from there (Springfield Center),” she said.  “That person just hasn’t been found yet.”

Denise Oliver of Otsego County’s Child Advocacy Office also spoke.  But when the Q&A opened, audience members wanted specifics about Cooperstown.

Supt. of Schools Bill Crankshaw, who organized the evening’s program, said he had started the day meeting with high-school seniors to gauge their level of concern.  Word quickly spread, and other classes wanted to talk to him as well. By day’s end he’d worked his way to seventh graders.

“Use your older kids to advise you and to help teach our younger kids,” Fical advised him.

Supt. of Schools Bill Crankshaw received loud applause for how he’s responded to the Hobbie allegations so far, including this evening’s forum.

But how young?  In response to a question, Elementary Principal Ann Macario said she and her staff have been anguishing over that.  For now, she said, they feel that decision has to be made individually by parents.

However, even elementary pupils are generally aware something is awry; a conversation developed about it in the dining hall.

One concrete step has been taken. Through a newspaper report yesterday, Crankshaw said, he learned that reflections of girls dressing in the locker room could be seen by boys walking by the door.

He immediately ordered a wall built, and it was put in place today.  That had been going on since 1969, he said, when the Linden Avenue school was built.

Specifics were few, but parents reported chatter.

“I’ve heard a lot of rumors,” one parent asked.  “Has anyone else?”

Another mother of two girls said, “Both of them, when this came out, they weren’t surprised.”

Despite expressions of concern about an accused child pornographer working among CCS students for so long, one mother said her son – Hobbie had been his teacher and coach – came to different conclusion.

He read the highly detailed accusatory document filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and available online, but still he told her: “He would never to that to us, Mom.  Because, we’re his students.”


One thought on “Community Told Child-Porn Arrest Just Tip Of Iceberg

  1. Anonymous

    There is a row of lockers in front of the wall they built which my daughter uses, so the wall doesn’t help her or those girls in that section of the locker room. Hopefully they can come to a solution about that.

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