UPDATE: Investigation of Internet crime involving students under way

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 | 7:06 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department began an investigation Monday after receiving information that inappropriate images of students were posted on social networking websites.

The investigation was prompted when school administrators and school resource officers from Jefferson Junior High, and Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools heard students discussing the posting of the pictures, Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said.

According to a department news release, one or more people created a Facebook page using a false name and posted several photos and videos of about 10 different females. Some of the images also were posted to YouTube.

Wieneke said the images depict female students "in various stages of dress and undress."

Police have not been able to determine the identities or ages of the students because they were only able to view the YouTube videos, in which faces are not visible. The videos have since been removed. The images on Facebook were removed by the person or people who posted them before police could see them, Wieneke said.

Wieneke said if the people in the images are 16 years old or younger, the person or people who posted them could be charged with distribution of child pornography. But, if the people in the images are 17 years old or older, the person or people who posted them could be charged with invasion of privacy or harassment, she said.

The Police Department has asked Facebook and YouTube to maintain records of the evidence, but it will not have access to the images until the search warrant process is completed, Wieneke said.

One worry is that the images may be reposted on Facebook under another false name without the knowledge of police, Wieneke said.

Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the school district would continue to cooperate with law enforcement, but school officials had no direct part in the matter as it was a police investigation.

Baumstark said that she wanted to “emphasize that nothing occurred on campus.”

She also said that the schools would continue to educate students, parents, faculty and staff about appropriate Internet use to make sure that they know that “if you put something out there, it can be there forever.”

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