a difficult time, a difficult task

I work occasionally as a fill-in librarian at a local public library that serves a community of about 5,000 people. This is the community I am moving to next month, up the road from where I live now, and while technically it puts me out of the “rural” designation, it’s still pretty rural. Last week and the week before there was a horrible tragedy that rocked the whole community. Short form: a local girl Brooke Bennett, went missing and her body was discovered a few days ago. The most likely suspect at this point is an uncle who is on the state sex offender list.

First off let me say that I’m quoting from news stories only. Our official staff position is “no comment” and I’m sticking to that. Here is why this is a library issue.

  • The initial reports, when the girl was simply missing, was that she had met a sexual predator online via her MySpace page. That garnered the predictable media outcry as well as some very good stories about safety online.
  • It also resulted in law enforcement coming to the library to take the public PCs. You can read the library director’s statements about this in this article in the Burlington Free Press. The librarians waited for a court order, and gave the computers to the police once they received one. The computers have since been returned. The library had an internet policy in place to guide their actions in this situation.
  • As more details emerged it became clear that the MySpace angle was not just untrue, it was the opposite of what people had thought. The person who abducted Brooke had actually logged in to her MySpace page to try to create a fake scenario where she was meeting a “predator” when in reality she was meeting him. IP addresses from these interactions were given to law enforcement by MySpace and were, as near as I can tell, instrumental in helping them determine the sequence of events of this crime and narrow down the suspect list considerably. The older articles still reflect the “internet predator” angle when, like most abductions, the criminal was someone from the victim’s own family.
  • And as far as data goes, danah boyd has a very good article about MySpace when DOPA was more on the table in 2006. One of her useful facts “Statistically speaking, kids are more at risk at a church picnic or a boy scout outing than they are when they go on MySpace. Less than .01% of all youth abductions nationwide are stranger abductions and as far as we know, no stranger abduction has occurred because of social network services.”
  • The accused man is being charged, as of this writing, with kidnaping. This is because kidnaping at a federal level carries a possible death penalty sentence and is, I assume, a bargaining chip. The law regarding this is one that I wasn’t totally aware of “the 2006 Adam Walsh law — named for another abducted child — allowed federal prosecution of such crimes when they are facilitated by the Internet.” Worth knowing for any of us who provide Internet access to the public, I think.
  • The library has set up a book display dealing with this very difficult topic — books on MySpace, the death of a child, dealing with grief — and encouraging conversations.

So, this is all incredibly upsetting and destabilizing to the community here. While I hope that you never have to deal with something like this at your library, there may be some instructive or useful pieces of information here that I felt might be worthwhile to pass on.

9 thoughts on “a difficult time, a difficult task

  1. Thank you for articles like this..They are very much needed and for anyone going through the traumatic death of a beloved child and needs more support.
    Please visit my on -line organization at


    We also have a private forum for grieving parents
    Thank you
    Louise lageman
    Co~founder of MCLG

  2. Jessamyn:

    Thanks for posting about this. You write rational and sensibly about topics that generally provoke hysteria.

  3. When I was about 8-years-old my friend was abducted from her yard. She was found a week later alive but definitely not unharmed. Predators do not need the Internet to find their victims.

    I’ve long been an advocate of educating children of safety both in the real world and virtual worlds. The fundamentals are the same.

    The sad truth is most crimes against children are committed by family members.

    Thank you for this difficult post. What a terrible loss for her family and the community.

  4. Excellent post on a frightening topic. I hope that this helps to encourage librarians and library staff to recognize that horrific events can and do effect libraries, and that some general disaster/event preparation can be very beneficial.

    It is awful that this has ended so badly for Brooke. I hope that your community is able to recognize their shared humanity and move forward in a positive manner.

  5. Great commentary Jessamyn. I appreciate that you bring out the fact that the Myspace information actually helped the law enforcement officers and hope that fact filters through to some of the folks who seem to be inordinately fearful of the social networking sites. If your child got in trouble using the telephone you probably wouldn’t completely get rid of phone service in your house, just not have one in the child’s room and set up rules about phone use in general. The same should follow for social networking sites and the internet in general, in my view anyway. My heart goes out to the family and to the community. It hurts all of us when these horrific things happen.

  6. I’m glad to see that the library is sharing information about this tough topic using a book display. The display is quite a statement about the tragedy, and more importantly, a valuable resource that covers the gamut of resources the library offers. Thanks for sharing all angles, Jessamyn.

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