Abused Girl in Web Photos Found Safe

Times Staff Writer

A young girl who was the subject of a series of sexually explicit photos taken at a Disney World hotel and other places has been found and is safe, investigators in Florida said Friday.

After her adoptive father was arrested for trading child pornography on the Internet in 2003, the girl lived in a foster home in the Pittsburgh area and then was adopted. There were no further details on where the girl lives now.

FBI investigators resolved the long-running case Thursday after a database of exploited children turned up a match.

The girl’s father, who adopted her from Russia when she was 5, is believed to have taken the pictures.

The man began serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison last year, said Jamie Zuieback of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that tracks child pornography.


Authorities in Florida will pursue charges that could keep the man in prison for life, said Orange County sheriff’s Det. Matt Irwin.

The girl’s identification ended an international search that had lasted three years and inspired new, more aggressive approaches to locating child victims of Internet pornography.

Investigators in the Toronto Police Service’s child protection unit originally received the pictures from a British colleague who thought the location looked like it was in North America.

The case received international attention this year when the Toronto police, frustrated by the lack of leads, digitally erased the girl from five photos and asked for the public’s help in identifying the locations. Moments after the pictures’ broadcast, tipsters identified at least one of the sites as a Disney World hotel.

In April, again at a dead end, Toronto and Florida police released a photo of a friend of the girl, describing the friend as a witness to a crime. They hoped that someone could identify the friend and lead them to the victim. Investigators would not say whether the tips pointed to Pennsylvania, but other clues in some of the photos -- such as the type of flowers and trees -- indicated the northeastern U.S. or southeastern Canada.

Det. Sgt. Paul Gillespie, the Toronto police officer who thought of releasing the sanitized photos, had been considering releasing a picture of the girl’s face as a last resort. But he had to weigh whether violating her privacy -- and alerting her abuser that authorities were looking for him -- would outweigh the risks of allowing the exploitation to continue.

Gillespie also was concerned that the offender might already have been identified and arrested by police in another state without their knowledge. That led to a midnight e-mail to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, asking for his help developing a database to help police around the world to track and cross-reference photos and information about child pornography. The resulting Child Exploitation Tracking System was unveiled last month.