It's a mystery one local family has been trying to unravel for months now: Is their teenage son the victim of an elaborate prank or a child predator?
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer tried to get to the bottom of that question, and discovered that even federal agents aren't sure. But investigators with the United States Postal Inspection Service were so interested, they opened a preliminary case to examine the evidence.
Most 14 year olds don't receive much mail, especially an unsolicited letter in an envelope stamped 'confidential' in red ink, with printed labels from a modeling agency named 'S&M'.
"This is sick. This is just...Something's wrong," said a Gwinnett County mom who didn't want to be identified.
She still isn't sure who targeted her teenage son, explicitly mentioning his name in each of the letters.
The letter was sent to at least 15 freshmen at Parkview High School in Lilburn.
"That scared me. Like, he's a minor... there's no way my son would be doing any 'artistic nude' photo shoots," the mother said.
The letter says her son would be launching his modeling career with revealing photos, and invites his classmates to show up and watch. But the letter lists no location. Two photos included in the letter are lifted from the Internet.
"My thought was number one, it's either some kind of pervert who is trying to get photos or it's some child at school playing a prank," the mother said.
Fleischer tried to find out which. First, she drove to the return address listed on the envelope. It's a real modeling agency for kids in northwest Atlanta.
"Oh it's absurd. It's crazy, it's insane and we don't know why," said Eva Stancil, owner and operator of Kiddin' Around, the real modeling agency at that address, “Who is the victim here? Is it the boy or is it us?"
Stancil had already seen the letters when several showed up in her mailbox marked return to sender. She also heard from an angry father.
"He thought that 'S&M' may be a division of Kiddin' Around – which let me get this perfectly clear – it is not," said Stancil, who had already contacted the Atlanta Police Department.
"The police basically told me there was nothing they can do," said Stancil.
But Fleischer also showed the letters and envelopes to investigators with the United States Postal Inspection Service.
"By them using someone else's address, it could be to lure children to a destination for child exploitation, or it could have just been an elaborate prank, but whatever the case is, just the use of this address alone is illegal," said inspector Yulanda Burns.
Burns said, if caught, the sender could end up in prison for up to five years.
The envelopes have identifying codes on the outside, but the best clues may be inside the unopened letters. For example, DNA from whoever sealed them, or fingerprints on the letter inside. Burns did not want to comment specifically regarding the agency's investigative tools.
"There is a lot of evidence that can be gathered, so we will conduct a preliminary investigation to see what we can find out, to see who is responsible for this," said Burns.
Some of the boy's friends asked him about the letter on Twitter and several parents called his mother. She told
Fleischer she's relieved that her son handled it so well.
"He's very confident. He's a very good, outgoing kid and so for him it was, trying to play a prank on me and I'm not worried about it because my friends know who I am,'" the mother said.
But she also wonders how the sender knew where the teens live. Parkview had not yet published its student directory for this school year, but all of the students attended eighth-grade together at Trickum Middle School last year, and were listed in that directory. It includes students' names, phone numbers, and home addresses.
"I never thought about it before. I would have never thought anything of it when I signed the little slip that says my child's name can be in the directory," said the mom, adding that she never would have imagined it could be used for something like this letter.
"It was child porn. I think that if it was a student, I think the school needs to be aware. If it is an adult, I'd like to see them in prison," the mother said.
She wonders how a 14-year-old would have been able to print and mail so many letters without a parent noticing.
There was also an earlier business-style letter sent to four of the boy's adult relatives, about a month before this letter was sent to all of the teens. Investigators think it's less likely a child would have done that as part of a prank, and the earlier letter used the mom's legal name, which she says her close friends don't even know.
"That kind of frightens me a little bit. My gut says it had to be somebody who would know that information because it's not readily used," said the mom, adding that her son knows all of the kids who were mailed the letter, but several are outside of his friend group.
Postal inspectors intend to reach out to the teens who received the letter, and the school.
"It may be a prank, but it's not funny, not at all, because real children were used, a real business was used," said Burns.