Charleston, SC – An 11-year-old boy was safely reunited with his family on Monday, after he made a 200-mile trek alone to go live with a stranger he met on Snapchat.
The boy took his brother’s vehicle and traveled across the state by himself from his home in Simpsonville, the Charleston Police Department (CPD) said in a press release.
Charleston Police officer Christopher Braun was sitting in his patrol vehicle at approximately 12:30 a.m. when the 11-year-old boy pulled up alongside him to ask for directions.
The boy told the officer that he had just driven three hours to live with a man he didn’t know, but that he had interacted with on Snapchat.
The man provided the child with an address in Charleston, so the boy used his father’s Insignia tablet’s GPS feature to direct him to the home.
But the tablet lost the GPS signal during the journey, and the boy “was unable to recover it because Snapchat messages disappear or are deleted after they are read,” police said.
Officer Braun used contact information provided by the boy to reach the child’s father, who was in the process of reporting his son as missing with the Simpsonville Police Department.
The father and his older son subsequently drove to Charleston to pick up the 11-year-old and the vehicle he was driving.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds told WCIV that Officer Braun “was in the right place at the right time.”
“You have someone who’s chatting with an 11-year-old,” Simpsonville Police Investigator James Donnelly told WYFF. “We’re very cautious about wanting to make sure children are safe on the internet.”
Police are now analyzing the Insignia tablet to gather information about the incident.
In an interview with WHNS, East Coast Polytechnic Institute spokesperson Chris Grudzielanek urged parents and guardians to educate themselves about third-party monitoring applications so they can help protect their children from online threats.
“With Snapchat, they actually have a time-lapse video…so after six seconds they do delete, and from that there’s no trace,” Grudzielanek explained. “So, it’s hard to really see the history of what your children are doing online.”
Parents can also block specific websites using parental controls on their home networks, he added.