Tampa, Florida -- A Missouri teenager who went missing earlier this month has been found in Tampa, and a man is being held in connection with his disappearance.
The 15-year-old boy was found safe at a Tampa residence on Tuesday morning. Mountain View Police Chief Jamie Perkins says the teen was transported for questioning by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and is awaiting arrangements for transportation back to Mountain View.
According to the Mountain View PD, the teen had developed an online relationship with 46-year-old Stephen Underwood and during the online communications, Underwood offered to allow the boy to live with him in Tampa.
Hillsborough deputies say that on Nov. 7, Underwood arrived in Missouri and picked up the 15-year-old without his parents' consent and drove him back to his home in Tampa. His parents then reported him as a runaway.
Following our Crime Guidelines, 10 News will not identify the juvenile, because he is believed to be a victim.
When the teen was reported missing in Missouri, investigators turned to his cell phone to track him down.
"Through some various text message and discovered that he had an online relationship with this man," said Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough sheriff's office.
According to the Department of Justice, 13% of kids will be contacted by online predators and 1 in 25 teens are solicited to make contact offline.
On Tuesday, Hillsborough deputies arrested Underwood in connection to the teen's disappearance. Underwood faces numerous charges, including traveling to meet a minor after using a computer, interference with custody, and seven counts of lewd or lascivious battery.
Underwood is being held on $62,000 bond.
Perkins adds that more charges are expected to come down in Mountain View, once reports are released from Florida.
Advice for Parents
Parents should talk to their children about the danger of being sexually exploited online, and they should monitor their children's Internet use along with online video gaming, an area where pedophiles are increasingly operating.
Parents should also understand that teens are not always honest about what they are doing online. Some will let their parents "friend" them on social networking sites, for example, and will then establish another space online that is hidden from their parents.
Youngsters often employ a secret Internet language to use when their parents are nearby. Examples include:
- PAW or PRW: Parents are watching
- PIR: Parents in room
- POS: Parent over shoulder
- P911: Parent emergency
- (L)MIRL: (Let's) meet in real life
Parents can get more information from our Parent's Guide to Internet Safety.
KOLR Ozarks First contributed to this report.