STREETSBORO, Ohio — Tamia and and Tim Woods remember their only child, James Woods, as an "awesome kid" who was humble, always smiling and loved hanging out with his friends and playing video games.
"My son gave me a hug every day. He told me he loved me every day," Tamia Woods said.
James, 17, was also a talented athlete who ran cross country and excelled as a hurdler on the Streetsboro track team.
"He was on his way, I believe, to being number one in the state," his mom said.
His parents told News 5 they had no warning signs that James would take his own life, but on Nov. 19, he did.
"It was no inkling at all that he would ever do such a thing, ever," Woods said.
After the teen's death, police looked through his cell phone and discovered he was the victim of sextortion.
Sextortion is when an adult pretends to be the same age of a younger victim to get them to share explicit photos or videos of themselves on camera, authorities said. The individuals behind these types of cases are often times untraceable and may even be living overseas.
After pictures of private parts were sent to James through an Instagram account, the teen was convinced to share a compromising video of himself, which was then screen-shotted by a predator or predators, his family said.
Shortly after that, the extortion part of crime started. About 200 messages demanding money were sent to James over 20 hours, according to his parents.
"We found they were tormenting him, telling him evil things, saying he will never have a future," Tamia Wood said.
Through the investigation, the Woods family learned pictures of James were sent to other teens and threats were made to post them widely on social media if James didn't pay $300.
Tim Woods said he was angry when he read the pleading messages his son had sent to the stranger or strangers.
"He was like, 'Why are you doing this? Asking how to make it stop. Leave me alone. I'm only a kid,'" Tim Wood recalled.
The family said James sent $100, but the the threats continued. The next day he died from suicide in his Streetsboro home. Tim and Tamia were devastated and completely unaware of the anguish James was enduring over just one day.
"You already got something from him and you're still hammering into him that you're going to do whatever to ruin their life. It's worse than evil," Tim Woods said.
Streetsboro police continue to investigate the case. While trying to figure out who was responsible for extorting the high school senior, his mom said she has no intention of giving up on the search.
"You think you got away, but you surely didn't. You messed with the wrong parents," she said. "I think they should be charged with my son's murder. I do."
Through their heartache, the family is determined to spread awareness about sextortion, urging parents to talk to their children and check their social media accounts, while also begging kids who become victims to not suffer in silence.
"Talk to your parents about it because they can help you get through it. We need you to understand that we are all human and it's okay," Tamia Woods said.
Tamia said she'll continue to talk to anyone who will listen hoping that the lives of other teens will be saved by sharing James's tragic story.
"Our child is an angel," she said. "I truly believe that he opened up all this opportunity to make sure that another child does not suffer and go through the same agony that he went through."
Educating parents and residents
Following the suicide of Woods last week, the police department and the school district worked together to educate parents and residents about "sextortion" cases in the community.
School officials said they have learned that Woods' death was not only caused by sextortion but that other students in the district have been targeted. Specific details regarding those other cases or how many there are have not been released.
Sextortion is a nationwide epidemic, with suicide, unfortunately, being the end result in multiple instances, police and school officials said.
Police are asking parents to contact the department at 330-626-4976 if their child has been a victim of sextortion.
Below is a list of resources regarding sextortion and suicide prevention:
- Crisis Text Line
- Mental Health Resources & Supports
- Sextortion Information: What Parents and Kids/Teen's Need to Know from the FBI
- Sextortion: What Families Should Know
- Suicide Contagion
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