AUBURN, Wash. – A South Sound school teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave after a former student spotted a YouTube video claiming to show graphic and sexually charged instant messages between the employee and an alleged underage child.
But there were no children involved. Instead, the video was shot by a group of self-described vigilantes posing as children, working to expose child sex predators using social media to target victims.
Police in Texas, where the video has since gone viral, are now investigating according to the Auburn Police Department.
The teacher alleged to have been swept up in this is a swim team and water polo coach and an instructor at Auburn Riverside High School.
The district said officials learned about the video last Friday and immediately launched its own investigation.
Q13 News spoke with the vigilantes who said while they also post prank videos to social media, the sting allegedly involving the local teacher was no joke.
Q13 News has blurred the video posted by vigilantes calling themselves Predator Poachers because the man targeted by the group’s sting has yet to be arrested or charged with a crime.
One of the men behind the group says they pose as kids on dating apps to catch anyone looking to sexually abuse young people.
“There’s too many out there and nobody’s doing anything about it,” said Alex who helps run the blog. “These predators get slapped on the wrist, the even get convicted the kids don’t get believed with anything.”
The viral video was shot inside a Walmart in Texas and was posted to YouTube in July.
Alex, who asked Q13 News not to share his last name, says he didn’t know the stranger contacting him for sex was a teacher in the South Sound when he shot the confrontation.
“We immediately told them, ‘I’m 14,’ then immediately starts talking sexually,” said Alex.
And while Alex says his group did not immediately contact police about the alleged inappropriate contact, he claims to have shared the video with investigators at a later date.
“We really just hope the right pair of eyes see it and in this case they did,” he said.
It wasn’t until last week that a former Auburn Riverside High School student watched it and told the school’s principal that it looked like the sting’s target was one of their own instructors.
“We did have an all-staff meeting this morning at Riverside and we also had a statement for students,” said Auburn Public Schools spokesperson Vicki Alonzo. “We had counselors available all day today in case anyone needs to talk about this.”
Auburn Police says it will help Houston, Texas law enforcement and the local school district any way it can.
District officials are urging students or parents with concerns to come forward with information showing inappropriate contact between a child and an employee.
Meanwhile, Predator Poachers vow to continue their stings with hopes of saving children.
“We do want to make money off this eventually because it’s a lot of nights staying up until 5 a.m.,” said Alex. “A lot of times the predator doesn’t even show up because they get too nervous.”
Auburn Police tell Q13 News vigilantism can sometimes be a double-edged sword, and the department says it will assist Houston Police and the Auburn School District any way it can in this case.