The right keyword search on YouTube reveals an assortment of interesting results. Granted, there are things one would rather not Google for fear of government surveillance. But a cursory search for “catch sexual predator” brings you to one channel in particular that you just can’t stop watching. It sucks its viewers in, a sort of virtual black hole. Before they know it, a glance at the clock and it’s 1, 2, 3:00 in the morning. What is it about these videos that people just can’t turn away from?
One more click, and another video begins, a shotty camera loosely focused on a young man, probably no older than twenty, wearing a black beanie over his unkempt hair. In the background, a Bob Marley poster adorns the otherwise plain white wall of what one would assume to be a bedroom in his parents’ house -- maybe even a dorm or a first apartment shared with a couple roommates if the baby-faced kid is older than he looks. Background noise can be heard -- a conversation, maybe music, laughter. But the low-quality audio is hard to make out.
The boy wastes no time, jumping straight into talking about his suspect, pictured in the left-hand corner thumbnail, speaking with obvious disgust in his voice. “Today I’m going to introduce you to another predator who is four times as old as his victim -- I know a lot of people have commented that he looks twice her age, but let the record show he’s actually quadruple.” He pauses, waiting for the viewers to make a judgmental decision of their own. Then the young man continues, showing us a screenshot of a chat in which the man supposedly wrote, “I’m going to be honest with you -- I’m looking for sex. And I’m willing to pay money in exchange as compensation for that.” In the background, the narrator again shows us another comment in which the predator asks, “Are you able to host? Is it safe? Are you sure?” There’s obvious trepidation in his tone.
But it doesn’t stop there. The young man becomes increasingly disgusted and intrigued when the girl asks the predator if he is “going to be providing protection,” to which he replies, “I hate condoms. And besides -- I’m vas safe. No need to worry.” The YouTuber claims he’s taken the time to “get to know this guy until he was comfortable opening up” and “waited until the man suggested meeting in person.”
Throughout the entire video, there’s no mention of law enforcement. It’s basically an interchange between the predator this supposed young girl, which then cuts abruptly to a recording of a fast food parking lot. He said he’d be keeping an eye out for me, but he wouldn’t even tell me what kind of car he drove, the young man muses out loud as he pulls through the drive thru exit clutching a bag of tacos. Then, doing a once-over, the narrator parks, gets out of his car (leaving the tacos, of course), and proceeds to go over to a minivan parked off to the corner next to a side entrance.
He’s literally looking out the window trying to spot this girl, he scoffs, narrating as he approaches the van. Then he goes right up and knocks on the man’s window.
“Excuse me, do you know how to get to the nearest car repair place?” the narrator asks the predator, but it’s clear this guy doesn’t want to talk.
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“Hmm. Okay -- are you from around here? You look familiar. Did we go to the same church or something?” the young man tries once again.
“No, I don’t think so,” the predator responds, and then rolls his window up.
But this guy won’t take no for an answer. As the old man rolls up the window, he pulls out a picture clearly visible in the window’s reflection -- a screenshot of the man from their chat.
“Wait -- this is you, though. Eric?” Now he’s got the man’s attention. And it doesn’t take this guy but a matter of seconds to realize he’s in some deep shit.
Pursing his lips as he rolls down the window again, the predator’s voice drops to a barely audible grunt. “What do you want from me?” He asks timidly.
But the narrator insists on getting an affirmative identification. “Who is this guy? Tell me. Is this you, Eric?” He demands, raising his voice.
The old man just keeps repeating himself, “What do you want?”
The narrator ignores the man’s question, jumping right into his accusation. “I have your whole chat log and everything. Eric, you wanted to have sex with this underage girl.”
The man is almost in tears, now. He shakes his head emphatically, mouthing the words, “NO!” over and over, looking directly into the camera lens now. It’s almost as if the viewer can see the exact moment at which the predator realizes he’s been caught. The tension is palpable.
“I’ve gotta go, man,” the predator says, not looking the young man directly in the eye.
“You’ve gotta go? Where are you going? You gonna go look for another little girl or something?” the narrator jabs. “Why? I thought you wanted to do this -- right?”
“So why’d you show up?”
“Because -- well, because I’m...a dumbass,” the predator says, his face flushed.
The narrator reads the list of offenses, quoting the predator word-for-word from their week-long chat conversation. “You got a family?” The man nods. “You married?” He nods again. “Any kids?” Again, a nod. “How old are they? You kids --”
“Look man, I gotta go, buddy…this is making me sick,” the predator says, his voice low and quiet.
“It’s making you sick?!” the narrator scoffs.
“It was a stupid thing to do. I thought about that when I was sittin’ here -- I thought, what are you doing?”
“I’m disappointed in you,” the narrator says earnestly.
“Yeah -- I’m disappointed too,” the predator concedes, not saying anything else.
Then the narrator continues, reading off other quotes from the chat. All the while, the predator can be seen nodding, closing his eyes as if wishing he could wake up from a nightmare. Anyone watching probably feels a little sorry for the guy at this point, to be honest.
The accusations continue. “Able to provide some compensation for that -- for sex? Terrible. Evil! That is purely evil, dude.” Again, the man just faces forward, eyes low, unable to speak even a word to defend himself.
“You knew this was a bad idea, and yet you followed through with it? That was a terrible idea.”
“I know,” the predator mumbles.
“Look, I don’t want to see you ever again. Okay?” the narrator states matter-of-factly, at which point the predator assures him that it won’t ever happen again and immediately drives off, license plate in full view.
There are only a matter of seconds left in the video as the viewers wonder, Does he just let the guy go? What if he does that again?
Suffice it to say that there’s a 2-second epilogue of text running across the screen that reads, “He was reported to federal agents.” A little anti-climactic, yes -- but if you believe everything you see, then all is right in the world. The video ends, and we’re free to subscribe or move right along to another sensational YouTuber’s video up next in the que.
It was 10:16 pm on a foggy, humid November weeknight as Caleb Walker pulled into the Whataburger parking lot off the side of Highway 21, about 20 minutes outside Conroe. The wannabe crime-stopper-turned-Youtube-sensation noted there were only a handful of cars left in the parking lot, none of which fit the description he’d been given online. It’s alright. I’ll just stick around for a bit, maybe order a cheeseburger and fries with some of that fancy ketchup or whatever, he thought to himself. Five minutes later, and the guy still hadn’t shown up.
“Hey. Where are you? I’m here…” Caleb texted.
“…Hello?” He tried again, growing impatient. He figured the guy might’ve had something come up. Or maybe he chickened out. Is he on to me? Caleb wondered, doubting himself now.
Still, no response.
Had the man driven by, seen Caleb watching suspiciously, and driven off over an hour earlier? There had been several cars that drove by -- none that fit the right description, though. Or perhaps he had sensed something was wrong. Maybe it was just light enough outside with the nearby streetlights to make out the shadow of a man seeking revenge; the shadow, Caleb thought, of a man with no clear purpose behind his seemingly good-natured vigilante acts.
He pulled up to the drive-thru, then hesitated and decided just to park and go inside so he could get the wifi password. An hour passed before he knew it, and the workers politely but firmly asked him to leave. This is a pretty lame last call, he ruminated. I’ve put in weeks worth of time talking to this guy, building trust, and now he’s gonna stand me up like this? He decided to order a chocolate milkshake before heading back to the parking lot to wait…and wait.
But the 2011 electric blue Honda Accord never showed. Growing increasingly tired and frustrated with yet another failed sting, Caleb checked his phone again, pulling up Youtube to find that he’d lost another 150 followers that week. What the hell? I’ve been posting more stings, but these viewers must want something more. He read one of the more recent comments on his latest sex offender sting video: “Your a fucking lame ass poser!Everyone knows your too much of a pussy to actually go out and catch these guys. Im unsubscribing from this bullshit!” Usually the use of the wrong ‘your’ bothers me, he thought. But bad grammar was the least of Caleb’s worries that night.
Caleb Walker began his Youtube career (if you could call it a career) when he got rejection letter after rejection letter from local police academies. He just couldn’t put in the effort in school to graduate, burning out after he’d been sent to alternative school for drug possession and assault. If he could just get by with the bare minimum, that’d be fine. If he could get by. Every day was a struggle; Caleb didn’t have any real friends. He had a drug dealer on speed dial and an abusive father, a mother who just sat there and looked pretty, and some so-called friends from juvie. He was angry that something so trivial as a bag of weed in the back of his rusty old VW Golf could get him kicked out of school, when there were guys all over the place getting away with way worse. He had a special hatred in his heart for the jocks at school, some of whom he’d been friends with back in middle school before his drug days. They were always getting the girls he’d liked, and the stories of weekends spent taking advantage of drunk girls made his blood boil. Not particularly because he felt sorry for them or cared much, but because he was angry about what he couldn’t have. Caleb threw a fit when he saw posts on social media about parties he hadn’t been invited to, like an angry child throws a tantrum as he watches his sibling play with a toy he’d previously ignored.
But it wasn’t until his former best friend Julian, who was now the star quarterback of a local high school in Conroe, ratted him out for having weed in his car that the idea occurred to him to get revenge. Julian Rodriguez, an 18-year-old senior, had a reputation for scoring as many girls in one weekend as he did points on the field. He was a surprisingly small guy, but he was quick-witted and the type of class clown that had all the teachers riling mad and the other students laughing right along with him.
It was a rainy Tuesday morning in February of their senior year, while Caleb was starting to nod off in US Government as Mr. Garvin droned on and on when the campus officer burst into the classroom, demanding that Caleb grab his stuff and come with him immediately. Fuck! Thought Caleb, as he noticed the German shepherd accompanying the officer. Who the hell told on me this time?
As they approached the office, Caleb thought back to that morning when he’d been sitting in his usual spot on the edge of the student parking lot smoking a joint before school. Julian the Douche drove up in his brand-new Charger, taunting Caleb as he saw the familiar sight of smoke rising up from the thinly rolled paper between his fingers.
“Nombre, if you wanted the good stuff, you should’ve hit us up last Saturday after the football game at that epic party!” Julian yelled, as a group of popular kids nearby turned and laughed as Julian roasted Caleb yet again. But Caleb wasn’t laughing. He just sat still, glaring at Julian meanly, fists clenched on the steering wheel.
Julian continued taunting him. “But if you’re dumb enough to bring it to school, I guess you wouldn’t know that, would you? You’re nothing but a worthless, piece of shit stoner!”
At this jab, Caleb took the bait. “Go to hell, fucktard! And why don’t you take that retard brother of yours with you while you’re at it!” Caleb shouted back, brandishing his middle finger as he put out the joint, too enraged to finish what he’d been doing.
Back in the office with the drug dog, the officer proceeded with the charges. Damn, Caleb thought, sweating nervously as the officer put his hands behind his back and locked them in handcuffs. If they bust me again on a drug charge, I’m done. I can’t go to juvie again.
“You are under arrest, Caleb Walker. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…” The officer droned on as Caleb’s face grew pale and clammy, his ears ringing, drowning out the sound of the officer’s charges.
Sitting in a jail cell overnight was enough of a wakeup call, but the look of disappointment on Caleb’s dad’s face after bailing him out was about all he could handle.
“You’re lucky I’m not beating your stupid ass right now, you little shit. Your mom sent you over here to live with me and this is how you show your thanks? I’m getting real tired of this shit.”His dad stopped, scowled, and hacked up some chewing tobacco to spit, forcing himself to slow down so he could get the words out.
“You’d better start looking for your own goddamned place, ‘cause I’m changing the locks tomorrow! And you have until I get home tonight after work to pack up your shit and leave. You’d better hope I don’t ever see your face around here again.”
Caleb’s dad kicked the door open on his way out, then furiously slammed the door to his brand new, lifted F350 dually, and peeled out of the parking lot, leaving Caleb to fend for himself. Then he stopped at his usual bar, Puzzles, for a few stiff drinks to calm his nerves.
For the first time in his life, Caleb didn’t know what to do. At least I still have my car over at the school, he thought to himself. As soon as he was released, Caleb was given his belongings. But before he could even check his phone to look up the number, an officer came over to him.
“Mr. Walker, I want to inform you that your car has been evacuated from the school’s premises. All charges from the towing have been covered but must be reimbursed within two weeks to the state corrections department,” the officer stated matter-of-factly.
“Man, fuck you!” Caleb spat back angrily.
“Sir, please understand that any refusal to cooperate with an officer of the law can result in further charges and incrimination,” the officer calmly but firmly answered.
Caleb flicked off the officer, turned around, and exited the building. He crossed the street and called an Uber to take him to the impounding lot. But just as the cab pulled up, Caleb had another idea. Dad won’t be home for a while, he thought. I’ll just stop by the house and grab a few things real quick.
As Caleb hurried inside, he noticed a small cardboard package on the front porch. He smirked as an idea occurred to him. Yes! It’s finally here. Just in time, too – vengeance is mine. He smiled like the boy Sid from Toy Story when he gets the idea to take apart all the toys and make his own Frankenstein creations. Caleb ripped open the package, placed its contents in his pocket, and grabbed a pillow case full of clothes, money, drug paraphernalia, and some other seemingly random items. Then Caleb tore outside, where the Uber driver was still waiting, indifferently staring at his phone. Caleb grabbed the door handle to the driver’s Ford Fiesta violently, almost ripping off the cheap handle. The driver looked up with a mixture of feigned politeness and annoyance at Caleb’s near-vandalism.
“Where to?” asked the scrawny, oily young man.
“Just gotta make a real quick stop over by the school first…” Caleb answered, dazed in his own thoughts as he stared contemplatively out the window. The ride over to the school, which was just down the road from Caleb’s house, seemed to take an eternity. Caleb kept glancing nervously down at his watch, then back out the window.
“Doing alright back there, sir?” the driver asked nonchalantly, attempting some polite conversation to break the awkward silence.
“Yeah, fine,” Caleb replied curtly.
“Is the air temperature alright?” the man inquired again.
This time, Caleb ignored the poor man. The driver, sensing Caleb’s odd behavior and the feeling the palpable awkwardness that his silence had created, fidgeted with the radio to mask his discomfort.
“Lock the doors and turn the lights down low…put on some music that’s soft and slow…” Josh Turner’s low rumble of a baritone filled the crappy speakers.
“Ugh!” Caleb groaned loudly, his face distorted in disgust. “I hate country music! Do you want me to give you a one-star rating?” he yelled unnecessarily loudly considering it was a small car with only one other passenger.
The driver’s body tensed as he calmly turned the radio off, saying nothing. The man couldn’t decide if he was more upset or shocked at Caleb’s brash rudeness. He contemplated looking for another job that night, thinking to himself how grateful he was that they were just now pulling into the school parking lot. Who is this asshole? What the hell is his problem anyway? He thought to himself as Caleb opened the door to leave before the driver even reached a complete stop. Caleb walked brusquely, clearly a man on a mission, as he methodically held the contents of the package in his jacket pocket.
It was C lunch by the time he arrived, so Caleb knew right where to find that little pussy Julian who ratted him out. It’s true what they say, snitches get stitches! Caleb thought, anger rising up in him. As he peered through the thick window panes covered in oily face smudges leading into the cafeteria, Caleb instantly laid eyes on Julian. You’re dead, you little fucker.
He entered the cafeteria, stomped over to Julian, and threatened him, saying, “That’s it? You’re just gonna fucking tattle on me like some dumbass little third grader? If you got a problem with me, why don’t you come tell me to my face!”
“Pendejo, let’s take this outside!” Julian shouted right back, a bite of spicy chicken sandwich still hanging on to his lower lip as he looked up in surprise. He shoved one of the cheerleader’s arms off him, stood up, and went outside. Some of the other football players followed Julian, a couple of them already taking out their phones to record the fight, certain who would win.
“Don’t you ever fuck with me like that again, or I will end you!” Caleb shouted, as they reached the courtyard outside the cafeteria.
“How ‘bout I just take care of you already so you won’t have to worry about that again?” Julian smirked, as his friends burst into laughter.
The sound of the other students’ laughter and the stupid, arrogant smirk on Julian’s face triggered an adrenaline rush inside Caleb’s body. Hot tears welled up in Caleb’s eyes, and a thin, low growl emerged. Then, before Julian even stopped laughing, Caleb took his right hand out of his pocket, revealing the brass knuckles he’d bought online illegally. He squared off his body, wound up his arm, and punched Julian directly in the jaw, causing him to lose balance. Then Caleb shoved Julian onto the ground, brutally punching and kicking his face on the cement.
Blood smeared along the pavement and the sound of cracking bone reverberated throughout the courtyard as one of the assistant principals rushed over, blowing a whistle, trying to run over as fast as possible despite an extra eighty or so pounds the short, squat, man carried.
“Enough!!! This stops RIGHT NOW. And anyone recording gets automatic suspension for a week if I find out this gets posted!” Shouted Mr. Sizeman, turning and glaring at Julian’s friends who just stood by watching. As the obese man yelled at the students, his jowls rippled and his angry, red face spat out the next venomous commands. “Mr. Rodriguez, your friends will escort you to the nurse’s office. Mr. Walker, come with me immediately!”
As if the brass knuckle beating weren’t victory enough, Caleb turned and spat on Julian as a final ‘fuck you’ before Julian’s friends carried what was left of him to the nurse’s office.
The pride of Caleb’s sweet victory lasted only a mere matter of minutes as Mr. Sizeman calmed down enough to explain the seriousness of Caleb’s actions. Caleb wasn’t even technically supposed to be on campus, as his hearing for alternative school was set for later that week. Typically, students would be assigned an average of 30 to 90 days of alternative school and would return upon completion with good behavior. But now, after the assault with a deadly weapon on campus, Caleb’s behavior was grounds for immediate expulsion. Caleb Walker would not return to high school -- ever.
It was especially infuriating that Caleb wasn’t even able to negotiate his way out of expulsion. A lot had changed since his parents’ divorce a few months earlier. Caleb’s father had decided it was time to quit spending money frivolously on lawyers to keep bailing him out whenever he got in trouble. At the hearing, his defense lawyer -- a new, inexperienced public defender who’d been assigned to the case after Caleb’s dad refused to continue paying their previous lawyer -- had suggested the possibility of alternative school instead of expulsion. But the jury unanimously decided against it. Apparently, they argued, he’d been in trouble with the law one too many times. And who’s to say that Caleb wouldn’t get out of that junior jail called alternative in thirty days on good behavior, then go right back to school (where the teachers and admin were more lax) and assault someone else?
Especially incriminating was the video of the assault, recorded by other students. Of course. Mr. Sizeman didn’t stand a chance at hiding the school’s fights from the evening news with their 21st century devices. As the jury watched the shaky first-hand account of the incident, Caleb could’ve sworn he could hear the sound of jail cell doors slamming shut -- the sound of his future shattering into a million pieces. So it was decided: Caleb Walker’s career as a high school student was over. He’d basically just signed his own dropout paperwork in the ink of Julian’s blood.
After the assault, Julian spent nearly three weeks in the hospital. The whole school celebrated when they received word that Julian had officially been moved out of the ICU after brain scans came back normal and the swelling began to go down. It would be a slow road to recovery, though. Julian had lasting problems walking and a recently developed speech impediment after the beating. More than his body, though, Julian’s pride was wounded. He finished out the school year and was even voted prom king and praised for his miraculous and brave recovery to health. But he was never the same.
Caleb, on the other hand, was easily forgotten. He was just another good-for-nothing burnout. His father’s endless rants about how Caleb was just a “useless shithead” who would “never amount to anything” didn’t prove to be far from the truth.
Caleb squatted for a while with a friend he’d met in juvie after his first drug bust freshman year. The guy had two jobs working as a waiter at nearby diners and attended almost daily meetings with Alcoholics Anonymous mandated by his parole officer, so he wasn’t home much. Caleb didn’t mind the alone time, though -- besides, he found himself out and about more often than not. They had sketchy internet connection at the seedy hotel where they were staying, so Caleb spent most of his time at the library or local coffee shops bumming wifi to create his new Youtube channel, intended to expose the hypocrisy of the public educational system in America. No rudimentary public school was going to get rid of him without hearing about it firsthand. Caleb always made sure he had the last word.
There weren’t many viewers for the first few videos. Caleb’s shaky camera rants about power-thirsty AP’s and jocks who effectively got away with date rape every weekend after a home game didn’t seem to catch on – that is, until one day when Caleb made his first sting post. A sting on Youtube, Caleb explained in his video, is an undercover vigilante whose job is to expose the sickos and online predators that would otherwise go on preying on young girls. Caleb reasoned that he’d been screwed over by the law over some dumb shit, so why should these guys get away with rape? What kind of world was this where grown men could prey on little girls and get away with it? It was his job to stop them.
Caleb joined a handful of chat rooms and websites to meet these men online and created a fake profile with a 14- or 15-year-old girl’s pictures he’d stolen online as an avatar. He even made sure to include some sappy quotes about relationships (to make it look like “she” had daddy issues, he reasoned) and added some other pictures of stupid stuff middle school girls might like nowadays – whatever that was. He didn’t have to be that convincing, right? I mean, after all, what is some creepy, balding guy going to know about teenage girls?
It was apparently convincing enough to get one guy to meet up with him, though. They agreed on a park nearby, just outside Conroe. Caleb would meet up with the guy, who claimed to be 17 years old, near a bench by the pavilion that Saturday, late afternoon, just before dusk.
In the Youtube video, Caleb can be seen approaching the man, clearly in his late twenties or early thirties, video camera in hand, rolling. He has a short dialogue with the man, something along the lines of, “Hi, are you onlinecreeperdude87? You are? Ok, well I’m here to let you know that I’ve printed out your entire conversation history in which you agreed to have sex with an underage girl. By the way, you’re on camera…”
The guy in the video is stunned. He literally has no words. You can tell he feels bad, he didn’t totally think through what he was doing. But ultimately, Caleb is right – he’s an online predator, and he’s going to be reported to the police.
Caleb clicked “Upload,” and within a mere ten minutes, a flood of positive comments came in, one after another. His Cricket phone buzzed with notification after notification, saying what a genius he was and asking when the next video would take place.
A slew of successful amateur video stings later, and Caleb was on his way to a career as an actual Youtuber. I’ll show the police academies and all those teachers and admin that were always on my ass who’s boss! He thought, when he received his first email from Youtube offering a paid ad contract after enough subscribers joined his channel. He liked the money these videos were bringing in. For once since he’d been kicked out of his dad’s place, Caleb was finally able to afford his own place, fix up his old car to make it less conspicuous for stings, and replace his Cricket phone with a more reliable one.
He steadily grew the video channel business for more than six months, until a sting went wrong. He was recording in the same park just outside Conroe, when an enraged predator started shouting at him, threatening to kill him and his entire family if the video was ever posted. A nearby patrol car drove up just then, and the two men turned away, acting as if nothing had happened. “Is everything alright here?” the officer asked. Embarrassed, Caleb flushed and said timidly, “Yes sir, sorry sir.”
Weeks, even months, went by before Caleb posted another video. He was too scared to meet up with the predators in person after the death threat. But his fans had grown accustomed to his edgy videos that always pushed the limits, and they wouldn’t settle for anything less. YouTube comments and numbers didn’t lie. He was growing frustrated with the dwindling number of subscribers.
So Caleb continued the stings, keeping his eyes peeled for any other opportunities, until one day he tried to threaten an undercover police officer. The officer initially thought Caleb was in fact the online predator. But after a confused look and a short explanation that involved Caleb showing the officer one of his YouTube sting videos as proof he wasn’t a predator, the officer just scoffed at Caleb and told him, “If I ever see you around here again I will immediately arrest you. If you want to do actual police work, join the force like the rest of us. You have no business here.”
Caleb posted a video the same night explaining why he was going to stop the stings. Almost as quickly as his fan base grew, subscribers began consoling him, encouraging him to keep busting the perverts. He read comment after comment, some nicer than others, until he came across one comment that stuck with him:
Your_mom_is_my_ride92 said, “Aw, come on! Don’t be a pussy, man! These stings are awesome. My uncle posted some fake nudes and knows a guy who can get some pics for you to get more hits. DM me if you’re interested…”
Caleb got up to take a smoke break to clear his mind and take the edge off, replaying the comment over and over in his head. I can’t just use some teenage girl’s nude photos, he thought to himself. But if I stop doing these stings, my Youtube channel is over.
He smoked a couple joints, then he nodded off into a deep sleep on the couch. He woke up sweating and clammy at about 4:30 the next morning, reached over to the coffee table to get his cell phone, and immediately checked his messages.
He scrolled down past a few new comments (but with the same old messages), and he came to Your_mom_is_my_ride92 again. He replied back in a direct message, requesting the guy’s snapchat username and promising to delete it immediately after he saw the message. “Hey bro, just wanted to say thanks for the support, man. I think I’ll actually take you up on that offer.”