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TAMARAC, Fla. — A Florida man has been arrested and faces charges of child pornography and unlawful sex with a minor after allegedly using the popular video game “Fortnite” to victimize at least 20 minors.
According to WSVN, authorities say their investigation into Anthony Gene Thomas, 41, began after a 17-year-old girl whose family reported her missing was found with him.
Although the girl was returned home safely, sheriff’s office officials were reportedly suspicious of Thomas and his alleged co-conspirator.
Their investigation revealed that the teenager had been lured into a sexual relationship with Thomas online. Authorities told the news outlet that the relationship began last summer.
“They made contact with the victim via the ‘Fortnite’ gaming platform, which is a popular game today, obviously,” Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Thomas McInerney told WSVN. “There is a communication aspect to that, a chatting aspect to that. A lot of children are on there, so predators out there know that children are there.”
Law enforcement officials arrested Thomas Thursday after a search warrant unveiled photos and videos of the 17-year-old girl, the news outlet said.
Authorities reportedly believe there are at least 20 victims. They say the co-conspirator would contact the victims online and develop a relationship with them. Then, this individual would reportedly introduce the victims to Thomas who then allegedly gave them gifts and a cell phone to communicate directly.
Police say that Thomas’ arrest serves as a warning to parents.
“Parents need to know that predators will use any means possible to target and exploit a child,” Attorney General Ashley Moody told WSVN. “I am asking parents and guardians to please make sure you know who your children meet online and talk to them about sexual predators.”