Reseda man arrested in online 'sextortion' scheme that resulted in 17-year-old boy's suicide

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Reseda man accused of 'sextortion' plan that resulted in boy's suicide
According to the Justice Department, at least a dozen victims have taken their own lives as a result of these "sextortion" crimes.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A new national public safety alert from the FBI and partnering agencies was published on Monday, warning thousands of children and teens are being targeted in financial "sextortion" cases.

Officials said at least 3,000 minors, mostly boys, have been victimized so far this year. They said predators use social media to start communicating with a targeted minors, who are primarily boys between the ages of 14 and 17 and sometimes younger.

Victims are tricked into providing explicit photos and the perpetrators will then demand money and threaten to release the images to their family members and friends.

According to the Justice Department, at least a dozen victims have taken their own lives as a result of these crimes.

On the same day of the report, San Jose police announced the arrest of a Reseda man they believe is tied to a case in Northern California that ended in a 17-year-old San Jose boy dying by suicide.

The arrest of Jonathan Kassi, 25, highlights the anonymity of this cybercrime.

ABC7 News, our sister station in San Francisco, decided to share the image of the suspect because police are looking for additional victims.

"Pauline, does this arrest, at all, bring any type of closure to your family?" ABC7 News reporter Amanda del Castillo asked.

"No," Pauline Stuart answered. "I'm very beyond grateful that it happened, but deep down, I would rather have my son."

Her son, 17-year-old Ryan Last, believed the person he was messaging with earlier this year was a girl. Instead, it was a cybercriminal who demanded more and more money. It's money Ryan couldn't pay.

Ryan left behind a suicide note, describing how embarrassed he was for himself and for the family. Since his death, his story has made national headlines.

Stuart said other families have reached out about her message making a difference.

"The one thing that has helped is knowing Ryan's story," Stuart explained. "They went to their parents, they went and talked to them and said, 'Help.'"

Santa Clara University Psychology Professor, Dr. Thomas Plante described the adolescent mind, explaining impulse control is very much still under development.

"When it comes to self-harm, they don't necessarily have the brakes that some older, more mature people have to kind of push those feelings aside and to find more thoughtful and productive coping strategies," Plante said. "So they just act."

The FBI said there have been more than 7,000 reports of online financial "sextortion" this past year.

Stuart said if there's anything she's learned, it's the importance of creating a network of safety.

"The big thing is building a support system for your kids and talking to them," she said.

It's a point Plante echoes.

"These are unfolding technologies, where us older people don't understand them in the same way that the younger people do," he said. "So sometimes, it's hard for us to ask the right questions because we don't really know what's going on, and that's why we have to have more of a team effort."

Stuart admitted her son was the "perfect target" because he was very trusting of people.

"We want kids to grow up to trust the world, but much of the world cannot be trusted," said Plante. "So we have to kind of find a way to have that balance of trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, but being very leery of strangers and scammers and all of that - who seem to get more and more clever on how they try to harm others."

Stuart told ABC7 News, "One thing about this scam, the way to beat it is by educating kids and parents about it. Because honestly, we didn't know this type of scam existed. And if we did, my son would probably still be alive."

TAKE ACTION: Suicide Prevention: Local resources for those in crisis