When a group of teenage girls in Semmes started getting strange Facebook messages, they went straight to their parents, and as a result, a North Carolina man with a history of sexual offenses is behind bars.
Garnett James Lloyd, 48, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for cyberstalking on Aug. 6, and United States Attorney Richard Moore said that outcome should be “celebrated.” However, he said Lloyd’s actions should also be a warning for parents to keep tabs on what their children are doing online.
“Do not give the front door key of your house to sexual predators,” Moore said. “You do that when you do not monitor what your children are doing on social media. Don’t give away access to your children.”
Prior to his sentencing, Lloyd pleaded guilty to posing as a young girl named Taylor Smiths and contacting several teenage girls who attend Mary G. Montgomery High School over Facebook. According to parents such as Nancy Vigor, Lloyd initially reached out asking if the girls were selling dresses online.
It was around Homecoming last year, and Vigor, whose daughter, Breighanna, was among those whom Lloyd tried to contact, said a number of girls were in fact selling dresses on the Facebook marketplace. However, it wasn’t long before some girls started to get strange messages from an interested buyer.
“One of the mothers told her daughter to find out which dress they were asking about, and immediately messages started to come across saying: ‘Can you send me this dress at this angle? I’m planning to use it for a pageant,’” Vigor said. “Needless to say, the angles asked for were not ones you would expect.”
Vigor said she was lucky because her daughter never actually interacted with Lloyd directly. However, she did accept a friend request from his fake profile — something Vigor said violated the family’s number one ground rule for using social media: If you don’t know them, don’t add them online.
By the time one of the other moms had called Vigor about the situation, the FBI had already gotten involved. That put Breighanna in a unique position. She could assist in their investigation, but she’d have to turn over her Facebook profile to authorities for several months.
“After heavy discussion over the weekend, she came to us and said: ‘Mom, hand over my account,’” Vigor recalled. “[The agent] was able to pick up the conversation where it left off. Monday morning the next message went across saying: ‘So, what about that dress?,’ and at that point he took the bait.”
From that point on, Llyod thought he was chatting with Breighanna, an accomplished track and cross country runner, but he was in fact chatting with an undercover FBI agent. The conversations grew more and more inappropriate until Lloyd was threatening and blackmailing who he thought was Breighanna.
After he was denied additional photos, Lloyd threatened to “destroy her good girl status,” claiming he’d send edited pictures that made her appear topless to her friends and family if she didn’t do what he asked. He also demanded she respond to him only with “Yes, Master” and “No, Master.”
Eventually, the FBI was able to trace the messages coming from Taylor Smiths’ profile back to Lloyd in North Carolina, where he was arrested last September. Eleven months later, Lloyd is looking at a five-year sentence in federal prison and will be required to register as a sex offender upon his release.
At his sentencing hearing last week, U.S. District Judge William H. Steele noted Lloyd had a significant criminal history, which includes three convictions for sexual battery and unrelated charges for breaking into a sorority house on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville.
Though there were limitations on how long his sentence could be for a “cyberstalking” charge, prosecutors argued the nature of Lloyd’s communications and his previous offenses indicated dangerous, predatory behavior. They used that to successfully push for the maximum sentence allowed under the law.
While Breighanna may have never directly interacted with Lloyd online, Vigor said their entire family was affected throughout the investigation. At the time, Breighanna’s parents didn’t know whether the messages were coming from someone in the community or perhaps even someone they knew.
“How close were they?” was a question Vigor said she couldn’t shake for months. During that time, Breighanna didn’t go anywhere alone. Even when she was training for cross country, she ran with coaches or friends. Now, with the perpetrator behind bars, Vigor said her family is breathing a little easier, but she told Lagniappe the incident has still had a ripple effect on all of Breighanna’s friends and family.
“As her mother, [five years] just isn’t long enough,” Vigor said. “This person tried to scare my child and threaten her with humiliation, but it is exciting to know that she now has a little bit of control over where he gets to reside for the rest of his life. She has helped make sure he’s kept away from other children.”
Jim Jewell, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Mobile Division, said communication between these parents and their teenagers’ online activities was the key factor that made identifying and appending Lloyd possible. He said many other cases have had different, and there have been more tragic outcomes for families.
“I’ve had six teenagers, and it’s difficult to communicate with them in a stable family environment,” he said. “If you’re not in a stable family situation, it makes it even more difficult, and we know sexual perpetrators on the internet look for victims that may be struggling with in their family environment.”
He encouraged parents to talk to their children and asked anyone who suspects they’ve been targeted or contacted by an online predator to report that activity to the FBI in Mobile at 251-438-3674. The FBI also offers free training to schools, churches and other groups on how to keep children safe online and identify possible threats. Inquires about that training can be directed to the same number, Jewell said.
As for Breighanna Vigor, she’s continuing to pursue her goals in athletics and academics. However, she also believes this situation fell into her lap for a reason, and she wants to use it going forward to educate her friends, her community and other teenagers about how to stay safe online.
Her biggest tip? Relationships — online or otherwise — are about quality, not quantity.
“It’s not about how many followers you have or how many likes you get on an Instagram post. None of that matters when the day is done. It’s all about who you trust to come into your life through social media because my generation is guilty of posting everything on social media,” she said. “You don’t leave your doors open at night for just anyone to walk in, and I think that social media is the exact same.”
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