An eagle-eyed airline passenger is being credited with putting two suspected child molesters behind bars.
Police say a man was texting about “sexually molesting young children” aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Seattle, Washington, to San Jose, California, on Monday, when a woman seated behind him observed his illicit messages and reported it to the crew.
The man, identified as 56-year-old Michael Keller, was using a large smartphone with an enlarged font. It allowed the woman to take photos of the text, Seattle police said in a release.
“The content of the text messages was very disturbing to the witness as it involved comments about the sexual exploitation of children,” police said.
The woman, who Mercury News reported is a Seattle-based preschool teacher, alerted the plane’s crew, which then contacted police working inside Mineta San Jose International Airport. Officers detained Keller. The suspected recipient of his messages, identified by police as Gail Burnworth, 50, was then tracked down to her home in Tacoma, Washington, where she was arrested.
Two children located at her residence, ages 5 and 7, are believed to have been victimized, police said.
Keller was booked on two counts of felony attempted child molestation and two counts of solicitation of sex crime, which is also a felony, according to a release by San Jose police.
Burnworth was booked for sexual exploitation of a minor, a felony, first-degree rape of a child, also a felony, and dealing in depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit condition, also a felony.
The woman who reported the text message to the flight crew is meanwhile being hailed a hero.
“We’re very grateful that she was on that plane,” Capt. Mike Edwards, commander of the Seattle Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, told The New York Times.
“I think the big message and the big takeaway on this is, for all of us, is to pay attention to what’s going on around you,” he said. “You never know how important it could be.”