FBI Finds Missing Child Thanks To Switch Online Activity

A 15-year-old girl from Virginia went missing in August of last year, but after 11 days, she was found in Tolleson, Arizona. And it’s all thanks to her Nintendo Switch.



29-year-old Ethan Roberts met the girl, who is being kept anonymous due to her age, on the internet and later travelled to Virginia to pick her up. He then took her back to his apartment in Arizona, but let her bring her Nintendo Switch with her. Here, she connected to the Wi-Fi to watch YouTube and play games, which one of her friends noticed (as reported by ABC15, via VGC).

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At the apartment, Roberts forced the girl to film child pornography, which resulted in his sentence of 30 years in prison as of April. Thankfully, she was found and saved because her friends noticed her online activity, giving detectives a digital trail to follow. With help from Nintendo, the FBI was able to acquire her IP address via her Switch activity and thus locate the apartment complex she was being held in.

Girl playing on a Nintendo Switch

“It’s probably nothing that anybody even had thought of at this point.” retired Arizona DPS director Frank Milstead said. “The fact somebody else down the road – another child – was bright enough to go, ‘Hey, look, my friend is online, and she’s been missing, and I need to tell somebody.’

“Everything’s connected to Wi-Fi to LTE (long-term evolution devices). A cell phone, an iPad, a watch, whatever it is – you can use those things to locate people […] He definitely underestimated that part […] The bad guys need to know that the police are watching and that you’re leaving a digital footprint everywhere you go. We will find you.”

The FBI and Tolleson police surrounded Roberts’ apartment and arrested him, later indicting him in federal court for charges of child pornography and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Roberts made a plea deal which led to his 30-year sentence in April, landing him in federal prison. The morning after the 15-year-old girl was saved, police phoned her stepdad to tell him that she was coming home.

Without the 15-year-old girls’ Switch activity giving the FBI a way to pinpoint her location, it’s likely that she would have been missing for a much longer period of time. And in those 11 days, already “she went through a lot”. Thankfully, she did bring her Switch, and her friend noticed her activity and told someone, ending this story with the girl going home to her parents.

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