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E-mails indicate boy's age known


May 6, 2001

To catch a woman accused of using the Internet to lure a 13-year-old Gaston County boy to Alabama for sex, the FBI resurrected e-mails deleted from the boy's computer and tracked the woman's online activity.

Newly unsealed court documents say 42-year-old Gloria Ferrel, a mother of four, knew the boy's real age, even though she told the FBI she thought he was 18.

The records, including a sworn affidavit the FBI used to obtain an arrest warrant, show how agents cracked the case and what the teen told investigators.

Ferrel and her husband, Gale Ferrel, 43, were arrested in Vernon, Ala., April 19. She faces federal charges of unlawful use of the Internet to engage a minor in sex and transporting a minor out of state for the purposes of sex.

If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison.

The 6-foot-tall, fifth-grader, who vanished April 7, is back home in Stanley. FBI agents found him at the Ferrels' home 12 days after he disappeared.

Among the new details in the affidavit:

  • Ferrel and the boy exchanged sexually explicit e-mails, some of which he showed to a friend.
  • A woman calling herself "Gloria Eichberger" sent the teen instructions on how to erase the e-mails. The Charlotte FBI Cyber Crimes unit was able to retrieve the deleted records from the computer's hard drive.
  • "The content of the (resurrected e-mails) indicated that Eichberger was married and knew the recipient of the e-mail was 13," the affidavit said.
  • The Ferrels and a third, unidentified person drove to the boy's home at 4 a.m. April 7. "He did not want to go with them. They argued about this outside of his residence and Gloria talked him into leaving," the affidavit said.
  • Once in Alabama, the boy "wanted to return home but was afraid to tell them because Gloria threatened to `throw him out and put him on the street' if he didn't do exactly what she told him," the affidavit said.
  • The teen got drunk at the Ferrels' home, the boy told agents, and Gloria Ferrel and he had sex.

The FBI traced the e-mails to two online accounts registered to a "Gloria Eichberger," and then subpoenaed records from Internet service providers, including Lycos Inc. and Hotmail.

On April 19, information obtained through those subpoenas led agents to a post office box in Vernon, Ala., where a local Internet provider had been sending Gloria Ferrel's bill.

With help from local police and postal officials, the FBI located the missing teen later that day. He told agents "he was scared and he wanted to go home," the affidavit said.

Gloria Ferrel, in an interview with the FBI, acknowledged meeting the boy on the Internet and driving him to Alabama, but denied any sexual contact.

Ferrel's husband told agents he thought it was a mistake to take the boy to Alabama. Gale Ferrel denied having firsthand knowledge of sex between the teen and his wife, but said he "had strong suspicions that such activities occurred," the affidavit said. He later was charged with a misdemeanor state count of contributing to a child in need of supervision

In an interview with The Observer, the teen said he developed a crush on an Alabama woman who said she was 28, with blond hair and green eyes. The two met in the alternative chat room of the Napster Web site in January.

The teen suffers from bipolar disorder. He often spent up to eight hours a day on the Internet. The Observer is not publishing the boy's name to protect his privacy.

The boy, whose parents are divorced, lives with his mother. His mother plans to take away his computer for good. His father is in prison.

Internet crime experts say any child who goes online without supervision is in danger. The FBI investigated more than 1,600 cases of Internet-related child pornography and exploitation last year, 13 times as many cases as in 1996.

by Reach Aileen Soper, Copyright © http://www.charlotte.com


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