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Until That Night ...

Monday, April 08, 2024 @ 08:45 AM Until That Night ... Hannah Meador The Stand Writer MORE

As a 16-year-old, Walker Montgomery enjoyed hunting, playing football, and spending time with his family. But on the night of November 30, 2022, everything changed. Within hours, Walker became a fatal victim of sextortion.

Sextortion occurs when an adult offender, usually disguised as someone else, entices a minor to create and send sexually explicit content via various online messaging platforms. Once the content is obtained, the criminal then threatens to share those photos or videos if the victim does not continue sending other sexual content. In the case of online financial sextortion, which is what happened to Walker, the offender blackmails the victim until he or she sends money.  

According to reports from the FBI and Homeland Security, from October 2021 to March 2023, the organizations received more than “13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors. The sextortion involved at least 12,600 victims – primarily boys – and led to at least 20 suicides.”

Walker was one of them.

What happened?

After eating supper together, the Montgomery family carried out their usual nighttime routines. Around midnight, before going to sleep, Walker logged on to his Instagram account. There, he found a message from a girl he did not know but who claimed to be near his age and have mutual friends. Thinking it was just a casual conversation, the two began discussing things such as school, hobbies, and more.

Shortly after initiating the dialogue, the girl invited Walker to join a video call through the app. He accepted, and before long, the talk took a dramatic turn, when Walker was enticed to have a “sexual encounter” during the call.

“Walker didn’t know it, but it wasn’t a girl,” Walker’s father, Brian Montgomery, told The Stand. It was actually a group of overseas predators in Nigeria who recorded the encounter with the intent to extort him for money.

As soon as the call ended, the individuals demanded $1,000 from Walker. Although he repeatedly refused, they sent him screenshots of the encounter and said that if he did not pay, they would send the images to Walker’s close friends and family – including his mom, Courtney.

“Walker responded after that exchange with ‘I’m just going to kill myself,’” said Brian. “But they didn’t care. They said, ‘Go ahead, because you’re already dead anyway.’”

By morning, Walker had heeded the scammers’ words and ended his life.

The aftermath

On December 1, 2022, the entire Montgomery family awoke in shock. Before that night, Walker had shown no signs of bullying, mental illness, or depression. As far as his parents were concerned, Walker was a happy teenager. It wasn’t until six to eight weeks later that the police department in Starkville, Mississippi – alongside the FBI – discovered Walker’s Instagram chat from November.

“[The FBI] looked at every conversation, every photo,” said Brian. “[They saw] no issue with Walker. He spent a lot of time watching football, hunting, and talking to his friends. … Walker was a normal teenager until that night.”

In a way, those words reassured Brian and Courtney that their son was exactly who they had always believed him to be. However, they were severely troubled by how one social media conversation had fatally impacted their son’s life.

“At that point, we understood,” said Brian. “The threat that came into our house that night was much greater than we ever could have anticipated.”

Awareness and grace 

Following Walker’s death, Brian made it his mission to raise awareness about the horrible realities of sextortion. In doing so, he quickly realized how prevalent this crime is among teenagers. He also found out how others in their community had received the same scam as Walker. Brian has spoken at churches, schools, and youth events, hoping to make teenagers aware of such dangerous online situations – before it is too late.

“[If] Walker would have had the idea of Hey, I’m not alone; I’m not the only person this has ever happened to, I feel like he would have made a different decision,” explained Brian. “I’ve talked to too many parents … [whose] kids have come through this and said, ‘Had I not known about what happened to Walker, I would have made a different decision.’”

Though these conversations are hard to have, Brian has been faithful, and he has seen the Lord use their tragedy for good. Many individuals have come to know Christ through the Montgomerys’ testimony of Walker’s life.

Advocating for change 

Besides equipping parents and teens with knowledge of online dangers, Brian also advocates for legislation that will hold social media outlets accountable for their crimes against children. Currently, he is supporting the Kids Online Safety Act.

“The bill simply says that we have an industry, tech companies, that today have no responsibilities in terms of liability for harms,” said Brian. “The longer social media companies keep you engaged, the more money they make. And there is nothing to regulate this.”

According to Brian, these harms include the threat of sextortion, cyberbullying, grooming for child sex trafficking, and more. At press time, the bipartisan bill had been introduced to the U.S. Senate and was awaiting further action. 

(Digital Editor's Note: This article was published first in the April 2024 print edition of The Stand. click HERE to get a free six-month subscription to the print version of The Stand.)

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