'Would rather have my son': Mom of SJ 'sextortion' victim responds to suspect's arrest

Amanda del Castillo Image
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Mom of SJ 'sextortion' victim responds to suspect's arrest
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A San Jose mom is speaking out after the arrest of a suspect that targeted her son through a 'sextortion scheme' which ended in teen dying by suicide.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A new national public safety alert from the FBI and partnering agencies was published on Monday, warning thousands of children and teens are being targeted in financial "sextortion" cases.

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On the same day, San Jose police announced the arrest of a man they believe is tied to a local case that ended in teen dying by suicide.

Monday's warning surrounds the so-called "explosion" in child "sextortion" cases - a scheme involving children and teens being coerced into sending explicit images online. In many cases, crooks demand money and threaten to post those photos if there's no payment.

VIDEO: Bay Area mother shares teen's death by suicide to warn others of online 'sextortion' crimes

The recent arrest of Jonathan Kassi, 25, highlights the anonymity of this cybercrime. SJPD believe he was involved in the sextortion of a 17-year-old San Jose boy who, as a result, died by suicide.

ABC7 News has decided to share the image of the suspect because police are looking for additional victims.

"Pauline, does this arrest, at all, bring any type of closure to your family?" ABC7 News reporter Amanda del Castillo asked.

"No," Pauline Stuart answered. "I'm very beyond grateful that it happened. But deep down, I would rather have my son."

RELATED: San Jose teen's death hours after scam is part of troubling increase in 'sextortion' cases, FBI says

Her son, 17-year-old Ryan Last, believed the person he was messaging with earlier this year was a girl. Instead, it was a cybercriminal who demanded more and more money. It's money Ryan couldn't pay.

Ryan left behind a suicide note, describing how embarrassed he was for himself and for the family. Since his death, his story has made national headlines.

Stuart, Ryan's mother, said other families have reached out about her message making a difference.

"The one thing that has helped is knowing Ryan's story," Stuart explained. "They went to their parents, they went and talked to them and said, 'Help.'"

Santa Clara University Psychology Professor, Dr. Thomas Plante described the adolescent mind, explaining impulse control is very much still under development.

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"When it comes to self-harm, they don't necessarily have the brakes that some older, more mature people have to kind of push those feelings aside and to find more thoughtful and productive coping strategies," Dr. Plante told ABC7 News. "And so they just act."

The FBI said there have been more than 7,000 reports of online financial "sextortion" this past year and more than a dozen suicides.

Stuart said, if there's anything she's learned, it's the importance of creating a network of safety.

"The big thing is building a support system for your kids and talking to them," she said.

It's a point Dr. Plante echoes.

MORE: Offenders of newly proposed CA sexploitation law would face hundreds of thousands in penalties

"These are unfolding technologies, where us older people don't understand them in the same way that the younger people do," he said. "And so sometimes, it's hard for us to ask the right questions because we don't really know what's going on. And that's why we have to have more of a team effort."

Stuart admitted her son was the "perfect target" because he was very trusting of people.

Dr. Plante continued, "We want kids to grow up to trust the world, but much of the world cannot be trusted. And so we have to kind of find a way to have that balance of trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, but being very leery of strangers and scammers and all of that - who seem to get more and more clever on how they try to harm others."

Stuart told ABC7 News, "One thing about this scam, the way to beat it is by educating kids and parents about it. Because honestly, we didn't know this type of scam existed. And if we did, my son would probably still be alive."

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