Protecting children from sexual predators

Reported by Casey Roman - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - There are over 500 sexual predators in southeastern North Carolina.

Local parole detectives are responsible for keeping an eye on every sexual predator.

Now, with the Jessica Lunsford Act, predators face tougher penalties and closer supervision in efforts to keep your children safer.

"I just wish I could bring my kids out here to play, but I can't because I don't want my daughter to have to re-live what happened," said a Wilmington mother who did not want to be identified.

The mother's 2-year-old daughter was molested by a sexual predator at Empie park, a vicious crime that a new state law is designed to prevent.

"It was during a community sponsored event for kids.  In the midst of the crowd, the little girl went missing," said the Wilmington mother.  "You cant imagine the pain and how scared you get when you're child is not there."

Her daughter reappeared from the parking lot with a man they knew.

"She had this terrified look on her face and just came running to me and I just snatched her from him," said the mother.

His name is Christopher Atherton, but she did not know that he was a convicted sexual predator.

Her daughter was Atherton's second victim.

Prosecutor Connie Jordan has seen the scene many times.  She said it's common for children to be sexually abused in New Hanover County, but lawmakers are trying to change that.

The Jessica Lunsford Act became a law in North Carolina December 1, 2008.

Jessica, a 9-year-old girl from Florida, was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

The act puts tougher penalties on repeat sex crimes against a minor.  Now, felons go to jail for at least 300 months and are monitored by satellite until they die.

Parents feel safer because the technology is designed to notify officials when predators are near minors.

"This law is going to make sure that what could have been prevented for my child, is prevented for future children, because its going to monitor these offenders," said the Wilmington mother.

But, families should know that monitors are a high tech tool for supervision, not prevention.  Technology has it limitations.

Stay with WECT and for "Part Two of Sexual Predators" where we test the high-tech device.