Eight juveniles charged in Instagram child pornography ring

Laurel Andrews

The Anchorage Police Department has charged eight juveniles with crimes ranging from possession to distribution of child pornography following an investigation into nude images circulating on the popular photo-sharing platform Instagram, according to police.

APD detective James Estes headed the investigation that began in February, after police received reports that several Instagram accounts had been created containing images of high-school-aged students in the Anchorage community, some of which were pornographic.

Some of the images were "what would be called a selfie," Estes said. Some of the victims were unaware that their images had been posted to the accounts.

There's a "whole lot of different ways these images get out," Estes said. "A person sends it to their friends, and so on."

"Once you take the image and send it out, there's no getting it back," he said.

APD worked with Instagram to track down the parties who set up the various accounts, Estes said.

More than 50 students were interviewed during the investigation conducted by APD's Cyber Crimes Unit and APD school resource officers. Twenty electronic devices were processed and more than 1,000 images were discovered, some of which were pornographic, police said.

Eight juveniles were charged through the Division of Juvenile Justice. Charges range from possession to distribution of child pornography. None of the victims who posted images of themselves were charged with a crime, Estes said.

Estes said APD has charged juveniles with child pornography before, but never this number of juveniles stemming from one investigation.

"Unfortunately what we've found out is our kids, teenagers, even younger kids are taking images themselves and trading them," Estes said. APD's main goal is to educate juveniles what the laws are, Estes said. However, the case-by-case evaluation of such situations requires law enforcement to look at an issue and ask, "where does this fall?" Estes said.

Anchorage School District spokesperson Heidi Embley said that the schools have students and parents sign an internet agreement form at the beginning and end of every school year that includes agreeing not to send offensive messages or pictures, or use computers for illegal activities.

"I caution you not to assume that they were doing it during school hours," Embley said.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel@alaskadispatch.com