NEW MILFORD -- Since January, part of Katherine Massicotte's job has been surfing the Internet and "chatting" as a 14-year-old girl.
That work has proven to be an eye-opener to the seediest side of cybercrime.
Massicotte is a detective in the New Milford Police Department's Investigative Services Bureau. This year, she is the detective the department has assigned to the State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Last week, she and Detective Sgt. Kevin Albanese, of the Connecticut State Police Computer Crime Unit, told parents gathered at New Milford High School for a seminar, "Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace," to monitor their children's use of the Internet, because pedophiles often lurk in chat rooms, Facebook, Yahoo, Club Penguin, YouTube and other social networking sites and target young victims.
"Pedophiles are out there -- in Kent, in Brookfield, throughout your local area," she said.
"They're not the creepy guy who drives slowly past the playground," Albanese said. "They're sitting in the comfort of their own homes, surfing the Internet and establishing emotional relationships with children to take sexual action against them."
To drive their message home, the officers played a YouTube video of Alicia Kozakiewicz, a young woman from Pennsylvania, and her mother, Mary, talking about how Alicia was lured by a pedophile and subsequently abused.
The News-Times policy is not to name abuse victims, but since the Kozakiewicz family has made Alicia's experience public and available for law enforcement to use, that policy is being waived.
In 2001, Alicia was 13 and an honor student with a stay-at-home mom, when she was befriended in a Yahoo chat room by a 38-year-old man who presented himself as a teenage boy.
The man, later identified as Scott Tyree, "groomed" Alicia, asking her about her day, showing interest in her life, and then slowly, seemingly timidly, began asking her about her level of sexual experience, Mary Kozakiewicz said on the video.
When Tyree had established an emotional bond with Alicia, he began asserting control over her, questioning her if she missed a chat session, telling her he needed her, that he needed to see her.
"I trusted him wholeheartedly. He was my best friend, my confidant," Alicia said on the video.
On Jan. 1, 2002, Alicia and Tyree made plans to meet. She left her parents' home just before dinner and when they got together, Tyree kidnapped her and drove for five hours, across the state line to a house in Virginia.
There he starved, brutally beat and assaulted her for four days, videotaping and streaming the experience over the Web, Mary Kozakiewicz said.
Someone who saw the video online contacted the authorities, and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided the house, rescuing Alicia on Jan. 4, 2002.
They believed from what Tyree said before he left for work that day that he planned to kill the girl that evening.
"I had a chain to my neck with a dog collar he'd placed around my neck," Alicia said. "Let your worst nightmare come to mind and that's what happened to me. I was beaten, raped, tortured and treated like an animal."
Mary Kozakiewicz said she and her daughter were both naïve to the dangers of the Internet. Alicia had no idea what Tyree was talking about when he engaged her in questions about sex, Kozakiewicz said.
Tyree received a 20-year prison sentence and may be released in 2020, Albanese said.
Neither his profile nor actions were unusual in the world of cybercrime, Albanese added, but parents can take precautions to protect their children:
Establish rules for Internet use.
Lock in the websites you allow your kids to visit with a child-safe web browser.
Know your child's password and check in on chats.
Visit www.netsmartz.org to learn more about protecting children from Internet predators.