It’s that time of year – school is winding down and seniors are looking forward to graduation. Darren Basford should be preparing to watch his son, Riley, walk across the stage.
“I often think what would he be doing now, what would his accomplishments be,” Basford said.
Riley was part of a blended family of seven kids. He shared the same age as two twin step-brothers, who are now seniors. Melissa Basford, Riley’s step-mother, says it’s a bittersweet time.
“For me as a mom to my boys and Riley step-mom to, to still want to recognize my boys as they’re seniors and different, different things that they’re going through,” she said.
But instead of celebrating milestones with Riley, they are reliving memories alongside of him.
What You Need To Know
- A 15-year-old Potsdam teen took his own life after being ‘sextorted’ online
- Sextortion is an online scam where kids are coerced into sending indecent or explicit photos online, usually through social media. The child is then extorted for money through threats of sharing those photos, usually to friends and family
- Riley’s scammer was a Facebook user from overseas posing as a young teenage woman. His family said the scammer demanded Riley pay $3,500 or they would share intimate photos he had sent them
- The FBI is warning of an startling spike in teens being sextorted online
“Because you want to be able to celebrate everything our family is going through, but at the same time, be able to mourn the fact that we won’t have that with Riley,” added Melissa Basford.
Riley was a 15-year-old boy. A standout on the football and lacrosse field. He was a lover of all things outdoors, especially hunting and carp fishing. His goal in life was to follow in his uncle’s foot steps and become a DEC officer.
“He was the kind of kid that would walk into a room and just light everybody up. He was just so full of life and he had a smile that was just so full of life, that you couldn’t help but just smile at him,” said Darren.
But on March 30, 2021, what started as a normal, typical Tuesday would forever change the Basfords’ world.
“He went with his mom to get braces put on and then he actually was going to come back here. He actually fed the cows for me, stopped to talk to my brother, who lives over next to the farm,” said Darren Basford.
Riley headed home and began talking online to, whom he thought, was a teenage girl in Albany. Darren Basford said his son didn’t have much social media, but started a Facebook account in the hopes of buying a snowmobile off its marketplace.
Riley was saving for the snowmobile for months. But that same account is where everything went wrong. The scammers began making threats and demanding money. When Riley couldn’t give them what they wanted, they began making threats of leaking his private photos.
“Within an hour and a half, they had him to the point where he wanted to commit suicide,” recalled his father. “They kept pressuring him and he offered to send something, but they said it wasn’t enough. And it just got nasty from there. And unfortunately, they pushed him over the edge.”
For days, his parents couldn’t understand what pushed Riley to take his own life. It was then that the police revealed he was sextorted through Facebook. The scammer was a Facebook user from overseas posing as a young teenage woman.
Darren Basford said they threatened Riley to pay $3,500 or they would share intimate photos he had sent them.
“They said they were asking for $3,500. I’m sitting here thinking, ‘I would’ve given 10 times that for him,’” said his father.
“It’s just the embarrassment, you know? And I think he was just he was so afraid of being embarrassed that he just panicked. He just didn’t know what else to do,” added Melissa Basford.
The FBI eventually located the scammers in South Africa. However, the Basfords say based on government affairs, the agency is unable to make any arrests. They says their biggest worry is that these scammers are still out there, able to target other teens.
“And that’s the other big thing, is these other countries don’t cooperate with our government. So once it gets outside of our government, our jurisdiction, you know, we have opportunities, other countries to cooperate,” said Darren Basford.
And in the two years since Riley’s passing, the Basfords are still warning other parents that it can happen to anyone. Darren Basford has changed careers to walk the same halls his son once did, now as a student resource officer. He says he hopes to be a resource kids could turn to during their most difficult times.
“Parents need to have that conversation with your kids, to tell them no matter what company, we’ll help you through anything,” Darren Basford said.
They’re hoping to keep Riley’s story alive, to act as a lifesaver when someone may need it most. They’ve also created the Riley Basford Legacy Fund. Its top priority is to provide funding for education, training and awareness to St. Lawrence County schools for programs and projects centered on cyberbullying and cyber safety, anti-bullying and character education. The fund will also support students at the Potsdam Central School and those enrolled at St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, with funding to secure materials for classes or help BOCES graduates entering the workforce.
“Unfortunately, it has to be my kid that brings awareness. But it also, like I said, it is helping me deal with my pain. It’s helping me deal with my life to know that I’m out there helping people,” says Riley’s father.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, the national Suicide and Crisis Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7. Just dial or text 988 or go online to 988lifeline.org.
If you find out your child may be a victim of sextortion, the FBI says to report it by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI, or go online to tips.fbi.gov.
The FBI says do not give in to the demands of the predator and do not delete the conversations.