Write an essay where you tell us about what inspired you to pursue a nursing degree.
It is truly puzzling how technological advancements have managed to become a part of our daily lives. We ask listening devices, planted purposefully in some of our homes, to turn on and off the television or lights. We can take a photograph of a check with our smartphone and deposit it into the bank. The very same bank that 20 years ago was a fortress of safety and security behind bars of iron and steel. Virtually impenetrable from the outside. Today that curtain of safety that shrouds our stored earnings in a bank seem guarded by an invisible cloud accessed only by user ID’s and encrypted passwords. Safe? What is safety anymore? Our children essentially hold the whole world in their hands by way of video gaming and us caregivers are none the wiser. For some, video gaming poses as a perfectly crafted babysitter to occupy their little minds. For others, being a part of the gaming generation is a position of necessity to be considered accepted and cool. Every one is doing it is the reason we let our youth conform to these new ways of play. Dare we not be socially accepted and potentially become a hateful and lonely youth. What ever happened to the days of playing outside till the street lights came on? Nowadays our youth are up gaming through the night until the street lights turn off. Quite a flip.
I too am a parent that hasn’t stopped my busy existence and everyday routine to stop and really educate myself to what I am willfully exposing our 12 year old son to. I allow him to play Mindcraft and Fortnite with his friends online. I have learned that the average parent could not comfortably tell you what goes on beyond the controller and through the headphones he uses to communicate in their gaming universe. I figured the minor talks we have had surely has armed him with enough knowledge to protect himself from online predators.
That May 2018 morning began when I received a terrifying phone call that one of the kids in my youth ministry had run away from home! I changed out of my night clothes and sped to that family’s home. Of course, I encountered a distraught mother and father. The police were already there investigating. Without a trace this 17-year-old boy had managed to vanish overnight. As this story of a runaway teen was unfolding it left us perplexed to say the least. Not even a note was left behind. Not a single clue was left in his undisturbed room other than his computers were missing. Analyzing his behaviors in the days or even months prior could not provide an explanation of that morning’s events. How do you find the unfindable? A youth that is an only child and has always kept to himself. A few friends but none who knew him intimately. A child who was seeking a better life when we didn’t even know he was feeling lost in his own. Trying to comfort his parents through this horrible real-life drama was surreal. None of us had a clue of what to do. We were helpless. We were shocked. We were scared.
Even though our world has become so technologically savvy, at that point, it could only offer the information that his cell phone last pinged his location at 2:14 am near his rural Louisiana residence. Over the next 36 hours we utilized that very connective technology called social media that the majority have access to nowadays. People in our community flooded social media with missing persons ads. Mothers asking their youth if they knew anything about this missing boy. There was one young man brave enough to say he did! Along with this admission, it would uncover a connection to the dark web they did not even know he possessed.
One thing led to another and servers to an app called Discord were accessed and all the details through hidden past conversations began to unfold. The police were notified and came to investigate. When I was informed of these new details, I felt moved to invite myself to the site of the latest part of the investigation. Why I had to see this with my own eyes was unclear at the time. I was not even this boy’s mother but a passion to find him that was stirring inside me that was insurmountable! His parents gave me the blessing to do whatever I felt necessary to uncover the details of his disappearance. I pushed forward. As we pieced through the text exchanges, it became clear that “they” were coming from the east. It was made mention that “the driver” would be in a Red Toyota Prius. His name was Curtis and he was running late. He was on the Mobile Bay bridge. The time stamp was near 12 midnight. This information lined up with the timeline of the last cell phone ping. The question remained, who are these people and why are they driving 10 hours to pick up our youth?
I was relieved that the police had the information and a solid lead! I was informed, by the officers on the scene, that the detective on the case would investigate this new information in the morning. The morning was too late! I was not satisfied with that answer. I felt helpless. I’m not a police officer. I’m not a detective. I’m only a concerned youth director and my quest to find this boy was stopped for the night. I was appalled! We have one of the technologically richest parishes in Louisiana and nobody feels the need to access the license plate readers in our roadway intersections! However, I knew one person who was possibly able to and I drove straight to his house. There I sat at 8:30 pm in his living room as I hastily rattled off the events of the last 43 hours to Mr. Nick Tranchina. Then without pause he picked up the phone and made literally one call. Within minutes the license plate readers in the main highway corridors leading to this runaway’s home were accessed. The search was on to find a red Toyota Prius. A needle in a haystack.
Minutes later, “Got one!” was announced. Those words still echo in my brain to this day. Zooming in to read the license plate with technology afforded to the law enforcement a red Toyota Prius was found. It was from Florida and registered to a Curtis Gruwell. At that moment every inch of my being launched me physically up and I fell out of my chair. In my pocket, I was holding notes from the earlier investigation and I wrote the “handles” the persons were using in the Discord chat. One of which was “gruwcurt”! It was simply a flip of his actual name. Thank goodness for dumb criminals! The stars were aligning, and I was certain this was the very elusive red Prius we needed to find! The police were dispatched to the address on the registration. Somehow, I still felt this was not it. It’s not the correct location. Referencing details from the earlier Discord conversation I was privy to I was not satisfied that this was the correct address, but it was a start. This was now becoming a very intense situation and Nick’s wife and I took to the web to find anything and everything there was to know about Curtis Gruwell. After many dead ends, I tried my luck on searching Facebook. There he was! I found his profile. His profile picture was a selfie taken in a Prius. I’d seen a picture of a red headed man earlier that day on the discord conversation. It was without a doubt him! I clicked the “about” button and that led me to another Florida address. I ran the information to Nick who was still on the phone with the sergeant from the St. Tammany Parish police. He looked at me puzzled and asked me where I got that address from. I shouted FACEBOOK! The sergeant on the phone was made aware that another address was in hand and that a team should be dispatched to that location as well. It was now 10:00 pm. About 44 hours have elapsed from the discovery of his disappearance. I left Nick’s house and headed home. I was empty. There was nothing more that I could do. I was a mile from Nick’s home when he called my cell phone and the words “We’ve got him!” were spoken. I stopped my car. I sat stunned and I said, “You’ve got Curtis?” and he responded with “No we’ve got _____” (the boy)!
As I sat stopped in the middle of a rural road in Bush, LA tears streamed my face and feelings of shock and elation were bursting through my very soul! I called his family to give them this incredible news! Over the next hour we learned that another child that had been reported missing from Marion County Florida was recovered and brought to safety as well. We had uncovered and disrupted a human trafficking operation in Florida! Sadly, this other missing boy had been in the clutches of this human trafficking operation and was being used as a sex slave for the last eleven months! Our youth was there for roughly 4 hours and thankfully unharmed. After an eight-month undercover operation involving many local and federal agencies, 7 individuals involved in these heinous crimes were apprehended and charged accordingly in Florida.
This story has sparked new conversations within the families of our community about online safety. Parents and caregivers want to know more about the perils behind the controller. Asking how they can be educated in ways to safeguard our youth online better. Ideas are sparking to create an education change. It is my hope that because of this event new legislation is being pursued to incorporate age appropriate mandated teachings about internet safety and cyber awareness in our school systems. The idea is to teach in a way that creatively infuses this topic into current core curriculum standards. After all, we are literally holding access to the world in our hands via cell phone, computer, and video games. Both of the young men affected in this story sat in a room night after night playing video games and creating an online family. A family that they both started to identify with by persuasion and grooming. Now is time to focus on teaching ourselves how to stop their access to our world and the world of our impressionable youth. I am grateful for people protecting people! This world needs to come up to speed with the newest form of criminal. Your child’s online “friend”.
This story has empowered me to make the decision to return to college and advance my nursing education to a Baccalaureate degree and beyond! I presently have an Associate’s Degree in Nursing Science, and it limits me to the contributions I can make to my profession. I am returning to advance my degree so I can be an educator to others. I would like to focus in mental health nursing of juveniles. I truly feel that I’m being called to be more for more. Please help me achieve the dream to be a difference maker! Please consider supporting my education and continue to bring a voice to this topic and so many others that plague our youth.
Thank you for listening!
Janin from Louisiana
Southeastern Louisiana University