A man is facing charges in Nigeria after a months-long investigation by RCMP into the death of a 14-year-old Surrey, B.C., boy who police say sent intimate images in a case of financial sextortion.
Mounties say the crime is a growing threat online that can have severe consequences for victims, who are tricked into sending images and then told to pay or send more pictures to avoid the images being distributed more widely.
"That threat to share these images ... can have devastating impacts such as self-harm and even suicide," said Sgt. Tammy Lobb at a media event in Surrey, a city in Metro Vancouver, on Tuesday.
"We need the public and parents to know and understand. We as police cannot fight this battle alone."
RCMP confirmed the teenager died by suicide. Police did not name the boy and the family has requested his name not be publicized.
On Tuesday, Surrey RCMP provided details of a sophisticated investigation into the death involving multiple international agencies, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, that led to the arrest of two suspects in Nigeria, with one being charged in August 2023.
RCMP said Adedayo Olukeye, 26, remains in custody in Nigeria and faces charges there including possession and distribution of child pornography, attempts at extortion by threats, money laundering and retention of proceeds of an unlawful act.
'He was an innocent child'
In February 2023, police were called to a residence in Surrey for reports of a sudden death involving a male youth.
Police said they quickly determined the 14-year-old had been a target of sextortion, in which he had been fooled into thinking a person asking for intimate images over Instagram and Snapchat was a teenage girl.
The perpetrator then told the boy to buy them gift cards to prevent the images from being distributed online, police said. The interactions were only minutes long, investigators added.
A statement from the family was read by Lobb at the news conference.
"He loved hockey and he loved life," it said. "Not a day goes by that we don't miss him. He was an innocent child who was taken advantage of due to his innocence."
Surrey RCMP said they want to use the case to show that law enforcement is willing to put significant resources into solving such crimes.
The force said it received 220 reports of sexual extortion in in 2022 and 302 in 2023, an increase of 44 per cent.
"Online child sexual extortion is a borderless crime and these offenders have direct access to our children by targeting them through their phones, mobile devices, computers and gaming consoles," said Sgt. Dave Knight with Surrey RCMP's Special Victims Unit.
"As police, we cannot fight these predators alone. We need everyone who works with children and youth as well as parents and guardians to get educated about how to spot the signs, have these conversations with youth in our community, and how to help our youth if they become a victim of sextortion."
Governments across the globe are scrambling to come up with ways to keep people safe from the crime and for images that are shared to be removed quickly.
At the end of January, a civil process was enacted in British Columbia that is meant to empower anyone to apply through the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal to have photos, videos or deep fakes expeditiously removed, and even to be compensated for the sexualized violence.
"As we grieve the loss of our son we want other parents to know this could happen to anyone," the family statement said.
"Talk to your kids about internet safety and keep the door to communication open so they can come to you for help."
By Chad Pawson, CBC