Katherine Lester, a 16-year-old honor student from Michigan tricked her parents into getting her a passport and then flew off to the Mideast to be with a West Bank man she met on MySpace.com, authorities say. U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded her to turn around and go home before she reached the West Bank.
Katherine arrived at Bishop International Airport in Flint late Friday and was taken to a private area to be reunited with her family. “Thank God she was returned safely,” Katherine’s father said Friday afternoon while awaiting her arrival.Katherine disappeared Monday after talking her parents into getting her a passport by saying she was going to Canada with friends, sheriff’s officials said. Katherine’s preparations began a few months ago, said Tuscola Undersheriff Jim Jashinske. She convinced her mom she needed a passport so she could accompany a friend’s family on a Canadian vacation when school closed for the summer. On Sunday, Lester drove her daughter about 15 miles to the Bay City bus station to meet the friend’s family for the Canadian trip, but they never arrived.
Katherine then called the family — and learned there was no such trip planned. Mother and daughter then returned home, ”Katherine then became very upset and refused to tell her mother what her original plans were.” Lester went to work Monday leaving Katherine asleep, Jashinske said. After her mother was gone, Katherine called a cab and took off.
Katherine apparently contacted the man from Jericho about three months ago, Jashinske said. Jericho, a city of 17,000, is a relatively calm area of the volatile West Bank. They found love on the Internet and it became an international incident — a spectacular example of what experts say is fast becoming a modern twist to an age-old problem of young girls, older men and bad decisions. Nationwide, Web enticement cases have quadrupled in recent months, according to a national group that tracks such incidents.
The FBI traced the teenager to a Wednesday flight from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv, Israel. At a scheduled stop in Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials persuaded her to return home, FBI agent Robert Beeckman said.
Jashinske said deputies confiscated the family’s home computer and were taking it to the FBI’s Bay City office for analysis. He said it remained unclear whether any laws had been violated because of Lester’s age. The age of sexual consent in Michigan is 16; Katherine turns 17 on June 21.
Shawn Lester told The Saginaw News that her daughter has “never given me a day’s trouble. … I just don’t understand with all these new laws protecting America how a 16-year-old kid could get out of the country.” She said her daughter never had a boyfriend and seemed to be content with that.
Katherine R. Lester is a straight-A student and student council member, her father said. “She’s a good girl. Never had a problem with her,” Terry Lester said.
“Evidently, she’s in love with this man. That’s what she said,” said family attorney Renee Wood, during a press conference Monday on the steps of the Tuscola County Courthouse in Michigan’s Thumb. “She’s never been away before. She’s a straight-A student, National Honor Society member. She gets along with Mom. She gets along with Dad. There are a lot of questions,” Wood said.
FBI agents have plenty, but the anonymous man who calls himself Abdullah Psycho isn’t providing them. The self-proclaimed “industrial/trip-hop/electronica” musician’s MySpace page features a cartoon with the caption “I Give You My Heart, Kath.”
“I’m not what they think,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Detroit News before declining further comment. Authorities believe he paid for the plane ticket for the girl who turns 17 next week.
The incident is the third in a month involving Michigan teenage girls leaving home to find older men they met on MySpace, a site that allows its 72 million users to post photos, swap comments and link up as friends.
MySpace.com is a social networking Web site with more than 72 million members that lets users post photos, blogs and journals. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.
MySpace forbids youngsters 13 and under from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 - only people on their list of friends can view their profiles. Older users also have the option of restricting certain personal data so it can be seen only by people they have identified as friends.
Tags: Katherine Lester, MySpace