Gavin Guffey sent a message to his younger brother and friends. The message was succinct and cryptic: "3" in the form of a heart, the universal sign for love.
The 17-year-old shot himself dead in a corridor bathroom a short distance from his room minutes later, according to CNN. A loud thud, resembling someone slamming a bowling ball to the floor, was heard at their Rock Hill, South Carolina, home, according to his father, Brandon Guffey.
His oldest son was bleeding on the bathroom floor between the tub and the toilet when Dad quickly ran to the room.
The bereaved family looked for any indication of anything they had missed for weeks. Then they discovered that con artists posing as a young woman had given Gavin nude photos and requested that he send them off himself. Gavin gave them images, and they blackmailed him by threatening to reveal them if he didn't pay.
Unknowingly, Gavin had fallen victim to sexual extortion, sometimes known as "sextortion," a crime the FBI warns is increasingly focusing on young boys. According to a new safety advisory released in collaboration with the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, sextortion instances have increased in the last year. According to the alert, the occurrences are a factor in an alarming number of suicides nationally.
Guffey, 43, was campaigning for a state House representative at the time of his son's passing. He became office six months later following a successful campaign. His first action was to file a state bill that would make the kind of swindling that killed his son illegal.
The bill was passed last month by all of his fellow House representatives. On Thursday, state senators approved the bill and gave it the name "Gavin's Law" while Guffey, who was visibly moved, watched from the senate chambers.
According to the legislation, extortionists who target children or vulnerable adults might spend up to five years in prison for their first offense.
For Gov. Henry McMaster to sign the bill into law, lawmakers anticipate sending it to him soon.
The family worked to solve the mystery surrounding his death for weeks
Guffey and his wife Melissa have been working to solve the mystery of their son's murder for months.
The con artists bombarded Guffey and his younger son Coen, 16, with Instagram messages in the weeks following the burial, asking for money in exchange for the naked pictures. Guffey was incensed by one remark that was delivered to his Instagram inbox on August 20, the day Gavin would have turned 18.
It had a laughing face emoji and the words "Did I tell you your son begged for his life," according to Guffey. He claims it took all of his strength to disregard the warnings from law authorities that he should not reply. He thinks the con artists sent messages to everyone with a similar last name, including Guffey's nephew, by going through Gavin's social media buddy list.
Gavin's iPad and computer were taken by detectives as part of the investigation into his death, so the family was unable to access them, according to Guffey. Using the scammers' texts and the facts supplied by the detectives, he began to piece together his son's dying days. He learned that the con artists made use of a function called vanish mode, which deletes communications as soon as the recipient leaves the chat.
They made use of these communications that vanish. Kids now feel secure using technology. They are unaware that another gadget is capturing that device, he claims.
With the last $25 in his account sent to the con artists via Venmo, Gavin begged for more time.
"He was telling them he would get them more money, please don't send out these images... they didn't care," Guffey claims. "I believe that it was simply too much for him to handle, and he had no idea how to do it," the author said.
A Columbia, South Carolina-based FBI spokesperson told CNN in an email that no arrests had been made in the case. It refused to give more details, citing an ongoing inquiry.
According to the FBI, sextortion targets thousands of teenagers every year.
Most online sextortion operations take place.
According to government officials, law enforcement organizations received over 7,000 reports in 2022 about the online sextortion of minors. In about half of them, there were casualties, mostly youths. According to the FBI, over a dozen sextortion victims committed themselves.
Young male victims of predators are frequently led to believe they are speaking with girls their age, coerced into sending obscene photos and videos, and then threatened with the release of such materials if money is not provided.
Dr. Carl Fleisher, a specialist in adolescent and child psychiatry, claims in an article on UCLA Health that young people are more impulsive because they don't consider risks and consequences the same way adults do. Because the prefrontal cortex, the executive control center of the brain, does not fully develop until about the mid-20s, Fleisher claims that these people have underdeveloped judgmental and decision-making skills.
The FBI claims that young individuals commit crimes when they think they are conversing with a person who is interested in a relationship and is also their age. Children who become trapped in this pattern frequently refrain from seeking assistance or reporting abuse because of the shame, anxiety, and bewilderment they experience.
The FBI warns teenagers on its website that con artists take advantage of their fear. They were advised to report sextortion because they weren't the ones doing the wrong thing.
Sextortion scams are getting more and more national attention. However, law enforcement is retaliating.
Three men from Nigeria will be extradited, according to Mark Totten, the US attorney for the western district of Michigan, for allegedly kidnapping young boys. One of the guys will face charges for contributing to the suicide by sextortion of Jordan DeMay, 17, in March 2022.
Additionally, in December, Los Angeles police arrested in the case of Ryan Last, 17, who committed suicide in February 2022 in San Jose, California, just hours after falling victim to a similar sextortion fraud. Ryan Last was a victim of the scam.
Guffey's son was an eccentric who enjoyed making fun of his father
Guffey is well aware of the psychological toll that sextortion has on families. He's still dealing with what transpired at his house that morning even a year later.
He remembers cuddling his son because he thought the boy had fallen and struck his head in the loo. He recalls smelling the gunpowder and seeing his revolver lying on the ground. He said he won't ever forget the hurt and bewilderment he felt upon learning that his son had committed suicide.
He claims, "I was a basket case, I didn't know what to do." Initially, I believed that I was to blame because I had left the rifle unattended.
Gavin was an avid skateboarder and artist who covered the dashboard of his car with stickers of dinosaurs, Spider-Man, and Deadpool.
A letter addressed to him came in the mail the day before he passed away. Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, was depicted on the flag that Gavin had ordered against a background of black and gold. "Don't tread on Ye" was written on it.
Guffey smiles at the thought.
Gavin would harass me nonstop. “Gavin was more of a liberal youngster, and I'm a conservative man," he claims. "However, I always teach my children to think for themselves and to be their people. The most crucial thing is that they are thinking.”
His office has the flag on the wall. It's a topic of conversation that invariably turns to his son and the risks that sextortion scams pose to teenagers.
Sextortion, according to Guffey, is a lucrative crime that attracts both foreign and local con artists.
It's "fairly simple" he claims, "if you can extort ten teenage boys who won't say anything for $100 each, and do all that with one image that you got from a girl." And teenage boys aren't always thinking when they notice they're receiving that kind of attention (from a girl).
He wants other teenagers to know that tomorrow depends on them
Guffey momentarily pondered resigning from his position as a state lawmaker to pursue the con artists.
"My wife responded, 'Definitely not. You're one of the select few who can speak up, get out there, and change things,' he says. "
At that point, I had to decide whether to prioritize identifying the person accountable for my son's death over other priorities. Or is it more crucial to share the word and spare another family from suffering the same fate?
The latter has been a key component of his legislative platform. On his left arm, he has a tattoo of his son's final message. He provided a lapel pin with a similar insignia to each member of the House who signed his bill.
Guffey would put on Gavin's white Vans on days when he needed an energy boost. He felt invincible wearing the trainers, which had Spider-Man drawn in black lines on the soles.
He says, "I think Gavin would want me to attempt to rescue more kids from ever having to suffer the way that he felt at that time.”
Guffey wants to make sextortion scammers in South Carolina reconsider their decision to prey on children, he claims.
Friends of Gavin decorated his casket with stickers of his favorite comic book characters at his funeral. They also went to his favorite skate park where they spray-painted a rock with a dinosaur, the number 3, and the words "Tomorrow Needs You" for other young people.
Guffey said he hopes young people would keep that message in mind whenever they encounter difficulties.
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