Franklin police aid in international online sexual exploitation case

Published 5:31 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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The City of Franklin Police Department contributed to an investigation leading to the arrest of a Canadian resident charged with luring a child, making sexually explicit material available to a child, and indecent communications following an online interaction with a Franklin juvenile.

A May 22 FPD news release noted that in March, the department received a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding the potential online sexual exploitation of a 14-year-old resident of Franklin. 

Detectives from the Franklin Police Department and Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force interviewed the victim, who reported that she was in an online chat room when she began receiving messages from an older man, the release stated. Police said that the victim indicated her age, and the man proceeded to send photos of his genitals. Police said he then requested the child send photos of a similar nature. 

The release stated that through a subsequent investigation, the suspect was identified as Christopher Merner, a 52-year old resident of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. The FPD relayed this information to INTERPOL officials, who in turn notified Canadian authorities. 

On Tuesday, May 21, members of the Canadian Waterloo Regional Police Service served a search warrant at the suspect’s Canadian residence, the release stated. Police said the suspect was subsequently arrested and charged with violations of the Criminal Codes of Canada for luring a child, making sexually explicit material available to a child, and indecent communications. The suspect was held in the custody of Canadian authorities pending a bail hearing. 

In the release, the Franklin Police Department encouraged parents to speak with their children about internet safety. The Southern Virginia ICAC Task Force has parental resources available on its website:  

Police noted that there is no mugshot photo of Merner, as the Waterloo Regional Police do not release them. 

If anyone has information about this incident or other criminal activity within the city of  Franklin, they are asked to call Franklin Police at 757-562-8575, Franklin Crime Solvers at 757- 516-7100, or contact the FPD online at Information that leads to an arrest can earn the caller a cash reward while remaining anonymous.