SAN FRANCISCO — A sharp-eyed airline passenger spotted another passenger texting about sexually assaulting children, leading officers in California and Washington state to arrest two people and find two young victims, authorities said Thursday.
San Jose police said they arrested Michael Kellar, 56, in the city's airport Monday night after a flight from Seattle. Kellar's texts led officers to arrest Gail Burnworth, 50, in her Tacoma home. Kellar also lives in Tacoma.
During a news conference on Thursday in San Jose, an investigator said two young victims, ages 5 and 7, had been rescued from a planned assault and taken into protective custody. Authorities say Burnworth had access to children as a baby-sitter and that Kellar was getting to the victims through her.
“Extremely disturbing -- some of the sex acts talked about not only molesting the children, but performing bestiality,” San Jose Police Sgt. Brian Spears said.
Seattle and San Jose police declined to discuss the children's relationship to the suspects and how Kellar and Burnworth knew each other.
The plane passenger told authorities that Kellar was sitting in front of her and texting about the abuse with a large font on a large smartphone. The font and screen were so big that the passenger was able to take photos of Kellar's text conversation, police said.
The passenger, who police didn't identify, alerted the flight crew. A flight attendant notified an officer stationed at the airport, and Kellar was arrested.
"I’d like to highlight that if it wasn’t for this particular passenger taking action to alert the staff and alert the police, this catastrophic event would have been horrific," he said. "In my eyes, she is our hero. That’s what I’m here for – to recognize her for her heroic actions.”
Keller is accused of attempted child molestation and solicitation of a sex crime. Burnworth was arrested on suspicion of child rape and sexual exploitation of children.
Kellar and Burnworth are in jail Wednesday, and it was not known if they have lawyers to speak on their behalf.