Teens Who Planned Runaway Over Xbox Now Face Charges
By Jeff Raasch, Reporter
BENTON COUNTY, Iowa - Four Iowa teenagers who ran away together now face juvenile charges after they were found more than 200 miles from home in Illinois.
Skie J. Floyd, 15, and Jazlyn J. Visek, 15, both of Shellsburg, were found safe Tuesday in Eureka, Ill. with two boys from Atlantic -- 16-year-old Corey L. Sunderman and 13-year-old Austin M. Boggs. They had not been seen since Saturday.
Authorities said the four teens were found in a vacant house when the owner came to check on the property. Eureka Police Chief Eric Luckey said the teens had broken inside.
"They were looking for a place to stay the night," Luckey said. "They were vague about what their final destination was."
The teens were in court Wednesday on charges of trespassing and criminal damage to property. The boys each face an additional charge of possession of a stolen vehicle.
Floyd and Visek were released to their parents, while the boys remained in custody at the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center.
Benton County Sheriff Randy Forsyth said Sunderman was Visek's boyfriend after they apparently met through the Xbox video game system that allows users to interact with each other. He said they had planned for several weeks to run away together. Sunderman's mother told KJAN Radio in Atlantic that the teens might have been headed to Florida skateboarding event, but authorities have not confirmed the teens' desired destination.
On Thursday, TV9 went to Video Games Etc on Wiley Blvd in Cedar Rapids to learn more about what Xbox Live can do. Whitney Black, a manager at the store, said it's incredibly popular with young people. "The reason the 360 sells more is because of Xbox Live. The social gaming thing is really, really popular," said Black.
With a monthly payment, Xbox Live allows players to connect and play games with friends or complete strangers through the internet. It also allows people watch TV shows, join chat rooms, and surf the web.
Forsyth said Thursday investigators were still trying to determine if any of the teens had actually met in person before Saturday when they ran away. He said most of the communication had been done by texting but noted this, "Part of the messages that had been sent to the cell phone when we were back trying to find information on them, appeared to come from a computer based instrument of some kind, whether it be Xbox or something else," said Forsyth.
National media outlets and the Daily Mail's website in London covered the story, calling the teens the "Xbox Romance Runaways."
Crystal Sunderman told ABCnews.com her son took off in a sport-utility vehicle that her husband had brought home from his iron and metal recycling job. Sunderman said her son had run away twice before, including this past summer with another girl he met through Xbox.
"He's got contacts in Pennsylvania, in Washington, in all these places," Crystal Sunderland told ABCnews.com. "I mean, it's just like are you kidding me?"
Since the incident, Forsyth said he has learned more about the interactive video game systems. He said it presents another challenge to parents in monitoring their kids.
"Parents tend to keep an eye on the cell phone traffic and the websites their kids are on, but apparently they can communicate just like they're on the phone on the Xbox," Forsyth said. "It's just another way for them to communicate. (Parents) might think they're just on there playing games, but they might be doing something else."
Parents can adjust the parental controls and passwords on the gaming system. If parents are nervous or not really sure how to do it, Video Games Ect. can walk parents through the process.
The four teens are scheduled to be back in an Illinois courtroom on Nov. 5 for an adjudicatory hearing.
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