"My son made a mistake and what he did cost him his life," says John Kujawa. "The Internet isn't dangerous; it's the individuals on it." His son Kerry was a victim of a shooting after developing an online relationship with a woman named Kelly. Kerry went to meet Kelly and was instead accosted by Kenny Wayne Lockwood, who had posed as the young woman online. Kerry was found shot in the back of the head.
Two takes on the story - Internet romance - good and bad.
More and more people are going online these days in search of romance. They are looking for the person of their dreams through Web sites for dating services, chat rooms, email and posted messages, game rooms and special interest sites.
Singles today have incredibly busy lives. They've postponed marriage and children to devote time to their careers. They're spending more time at work, moving around because of their jobs and spending longer hours commuting to their jobs. Internet dating allows for a more efficient way to meet a lot of people.
"It really is the wave of the future," notes Brad Mindich, resident of People2People.com, one of the largest online matchmaking services. "You don't have to go to a bar, and you don't have to rely on friends to fix you up."
"People are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of online dating," adds Diana Costa, founder of LoveNubianStyle.com. "It's like television. When it first came out people said it's not going to last. Well, TV is everywhere and Internet dating is too."
There are plenty of success stories. Match.com says that about 30,000 newcomers sign up each week, and that more than 800 marriages have taken place. Kiss.com has more than 500,000 personal ads. People2People claims more than 1.5 million customers.
Online matchmaking is a "safe and inexpensive way to meet people," says Jennifer Fox, marketing director for Kiss.com.
But is it really?
Tales abound of matchmaking gone awry.
In Richmond, Virginia, at least two men were robbed by two brothers after being lured to alleged meetings by a woman in an Internet chat room. She would use sexually charged "chat" to coax victims into face-to-face meetings. The victim would appear at the designated site and would be robbed by the brothers.
And in South Carolina a 22-year-old-man was carjacked by his Internet date working in cahoots with a partner.
"You have no idea who is on the other end of that keyboard," says Sgt. Earl Smith of the Columbus police. He calls the Internet a "paradise for predators."
Lenore Walker, the Denver psychologist who pioneered the "battered woman syndrome" murder defense, says women interested in romance should be wary of the Internet. While some sites run background checks, there really is no safety net with the Internet.
It's easy to make up an identity in cyberspace. You can become whomever you want. You can create an entirely fictitious exciting and glamorous life. You can even send pictures of a completely new you.
"I don't think people are very truthful in these ads," says Diane, a thirty-something woman who has tried them. "I think they have this fantasy of how they would like to come across, how they appear to themselves and it just isn't the reality of it."
George Jobel, founder of datesafely.com, notes that when he started his site five years ago, people who logged on to the Web were in the upper two-thirds of the economic trata. "But as the price of the technology has come down, the Internet more closely mirrors the national demographic."
"Harry" (who would not give out his real name) agrees. "I met my partner on the internet six years ago. I would never do it today - too many wackos out there. Back then it was mostly computer geeks. Now it's like the Wild Wild West."
Still, for those willing to risk it, Cyberdating offers another venue for meeting Mr. or Ms. Right.