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Homeland Security investigating suicide of Streetsboro teen after alleged sextortion

Family of James Woods creates foundation to spread awareness to kids & parents
Posted at 4:47 PM, Jan 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-31 07:58:13-05

STREETSBORO, Ohio — Homeland Security agents have joined the investigation of the death of 17-year-old James Woods, a Streetsboro High School student who allegedly committed suicide after becoming a victim of sextortion.

While Homeland Security agents won't comment on active investigations, the teen's parents, Tim and Tamia Woods, confirmed the federal agency is assisting Streetsboro police.

"It always takes law enforcement a minute to catch up and get ahead of things, so with Homeland Security being involved, you know eventually there's going to be something good that comes from this," Tim Woods said.

"It gives me hope," Tamia Woods added. "At least we know someone is on our side and someone is really fighting to help us with that."

Within two months of the tragedy, the family also created the "Do It For James Foundation," a non-profit that honors the teen's life and spreads awareness about sextortion and other cyber crimes.

Tim and Tamia are planning speaking engagements to inform kids and parents about warning signs of the crime and what to do if they become a victim. They're also creating scholarships that will benefit high school and college students.

On August 5, the foundation will host a 5k run and walk at Streetsboro City Park. There will also be food trucks and stations providing sextortion flyers, which will include places and phone numbers to seek help.

Last November, James, who ran on the cross country team and was a standout hurdler on the track team, was convinced by someone— most likely overseas— to show his private parts through a video on Instagram, his parents explained to News 5.

Tamia Woods said an investigation revealed the video was screen-shotted and then the sextortion began, with threats made to James that the pictures would be shared on social media if he didn't pay money.

The parents, who were unaware of the torment James was enduring, said their son sent $100, but the threats continued.

"They told him you might as well end it now," Tamia Woods said. "Just really, really evil things to my son. They sent him over 200 messages in 19 1/2 hours to the point where he thought he didn't have any choice but to take his own life."

Watch our report from November on James's death:

'They were tormenting him': Parents say teen's suicide linked to sextortion

RELATED: 'They were tormenting him': Parents say suicide of Streetsboro teen linked to sextortion

Federal agents say financial sextortion crimes are growing with more than 3,000 minor victims in the last year in the United States.

Homeland Security, in partnership with the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), has issued a national public safety alert because of the rise in children being coerced into sending explicit images online and then extorted for money.

A large percentage of the schemes originate outside the United States, primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast, according to the alert.

The Woods family believes the sextortion of James started in the Ivory Coast.

Homeland Security Special Agent Jason Guyton said the agency is monitoring a large increase in sextortion crimes in Ohio.

"The people that are capable of doing this are the worst criminals that I deal with in my life," Guyton said.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free tip line at 1-866-347-2423.

The NCMEC is also offering tips for parents and young people if they fall victim to sextortion. Those tips include:

  • Get help from a trusted adult or the police
  • Do not pay money or otherwise comply with predator
  • Report the predator's account via the platform's safety feature
  • Block the predator, but do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement

"You need to remember that you have a full life ahead of you, and just because a decision was made, you are a victim. You didn't do anything wrong," Guyton said.

Tim and Tamia said they will continue to spread the word to honor their son's legacy, believing the teen who had a bright smile can still help other families from experiencing such anguish.

"He's probably looking down at us, probably smiling, patting us on the back and pushing us forward," Tim Woods said.

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