Predators target Kern County kids; What parents can do to stop it | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The internet has evolved into a community of hope, progress, and evil. At the same time, people on the other end of your computer are stalking, grooming, and harming anyone they can trap in their wicked webs.

We’ve examined how we can protect ourselves, and especially our children, from these online dangers.

As part of our examination of the dark side of social media, a Bakersfield mother mourning her murdered daughter has also shared her story.

Her daughter, Patricia Alatorre, was 12 years old when the nightmare began. In June 2020, the COVID-19 quarantines were in full effect and she found that engaging with the outside world provided some kind of normalcy.

What she didn’t realize was that someone was on the other side of the screen preying on her.

“She played Fortnite a lot. That’s the only thing that I think in my mind where he came across with her because she played Fortnite a lot,” Clara Alvarez, Patricia Alatorre’s mother says.

Computers and online gaming consoles become tools for predators, making what started as an innocent action of playing a game online turn into a parent’s worst nightmare.

Coast-to-coast stories of molested, abducted and murdered children grab headlines. Kern County is not immune to that sort of story.

Predators are dissected mentally and studied across the nation.

“We need to educate our children about realizing that whoever is on the other side of this and social media, you have no idea who they are,” psychologist Dr. Corey Gonzales emphasizes. “You have no idea, their age, their gender, you have no idea of their history, their name.”

Armando Cruz was the man on the other side of Patricia Alatorre’s screen. He drove from Inglewood to Bakersfield to abduct, rape and murder her just days after her 13th birthday.

“It’s a very disturbing thing for children, because someone can be so nice to them, and so sweet to them in some ways, but harm them in equal ways. It is very complicated, very disturbing,” says Dr. Gonzales.

Cruz convinced Patricia to send graphic images of her body. His plan took less than a week. Then, he persuaded her to meet.

Patricia’s situation has since become a textbook situation for law enforcement, including Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer.

“She was extorted and sometimes kids get involved in doing things via text or social media that they wouldn’t do otherwise, like send pictures of themselves,” Zimmer said. “And then once that’s done, that’s out there forever and someone can really victimize a child by doing that, by in essence, blackmailing them. And that’s what she was. She was blackmailed.”

Cruz didn’t target just the pre-teen from Bakersfield. Police found he had pictures of other potential young victims with some being younger than 12.

Patricia went missing on July 1, 2020. It initially was investigated as a child runaway case.

“She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere,” Clara Alvarez says. “She wasn’t allowed to go to a friend’s house. She played in front of my yard and no, nowhere further than two houses.” says Alvarez.

Detectives later determined Cruz manipulated the young girl via the internet.

A neighbor’s Ring camera captured images of Patty getting into a white pickup. The truck was traced back to Armando Cruz.

Attempting to cover his crime, Cruz tossed Alatorre’s cell phone into bushes along Highway 99, drove her 115 miles to Inglewood where he then set her body on fire.

Cruz avoided the death penalty by accepting a plea deal: Life without the possibility of parole.

Armando Cruz wasn’t the only predator lurking in Kern.

In September, 22 arrests were made in Kern County as part of a sexual predator apprehension sting called “Operation Bad Barbie.”

Among those arrests was a registered sex offender with a prior conviction for sexual assault involving a 14-year-old.

A few months ago, 21-year-old Daniel Diaz was arrested in Bakersfield after meeting a teenager on the popular gaming platform “Roblox,” according to police.

He was then allegedly found in the back of a vehicle with her at University Park. Police say that Diaz was possibly in contact with other young victims through “Roblox” too.

Predators can look like anyone.

Ex-CHP officer Brian Pardue was arrested three years ago after exchanging sexually graphic messages on a dating app with a person who said they were 16. The other person was actually a sheriff’s investigator operating in a sting operation.

Predators will go to great lengths to meet with their prey.

Nathan Larson, an ex-politician who publicly described himself as a pedophile traveled from Virginia to Fresno in 2020 to convince the 12-year-old girl he had groomed online to follow him back to Virginia.

He lured her out of her home at 2 a.m., then headed for the airport and to the East Coast. He convinced TSA agents she was mute, and made her wear a wig as a disguise.

Hours after she snuck out the house, the 12-year-old’s parents discovered their daughter was missing and contacted the authorities. Investigators looked into the girl’s social media and figured out Larson’s plan. He was stopped and arrested at a layover in Denver and the girl was rescued.

Patricia Alatorre’s situation was a tragic outcome to a beautiful life cut short. Clara Alvarez wants people to be aware of the dangerous monsters lurking through the internet.

You can monitor your children’s social media.

“Bark” is an app that monitors your child’s online interactions.

Experts say to discuss with your children the real dangers of not only online predators but the surrounding predators in your area.

You can look up your address on the Megan’s Law website and find surrounding sex offenders to watch for, as they may strike again.

If you suspect your son or daughter is communicating with strangers online in an unhealthy relationship, contact your local authorities immediately.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office: 661-391-7500

Bakersfield Police Department: 661-327-7111

Arvin Police Department: 661-854-5583

Ridgecrest Police Department: 760-499-5000

Frazier Park Police Department: 661-245-3440

Wasco Police Department: 661-758-7266

Lamont Police Department: 661-868-5751

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