Michigan Teen Home Safe & Sound

In this undated family photo Katherine Lester, 16, is shown. (AP Photo/Family Photo via The News) AP Photo/Family Photo via The News

A 16-year-old Michigan girl who flew to the Mideast to be with a West Bank man she met on MySpace is back home with her family, after being persuaded by U.S. officials to board a return flight in Amman, Jordan.

Katherine R. Lester disappeared Monday from her home, Tuscola County Undersheriff James Jashinske said. The girl, who turns 17 on June 21, apparently planned to visit a man whose MySpace.com account describes him as a 25-year-old from Jericho, he said.

Lester tricked her family to get a passport and then left home without notice, the undersheriff said in an earlier written statement. After disappearing Monday, she did not answer her mother's cell phone calls, Jashinske said.

Lester met the man on MySpace.com, a social networking hub owned by News Corp. with more 72 million members that lets users post photos, Web logs and journals. Its features and popularity with teenagers have raised concerns with authorities in the United States. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.

"This is almost a stereotypical example of how kids become compliant victims. Internet predators don't abduct their victims; they persuade them. And as is apparently the case in this story, it's not uncommon for the child to know that she's dealing with an adult," said CBS News technology analyst Larry Magid.


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"Aside from the distance involved, this is a pretty typical case. The most vulnerable kids are teenage girls who willingly get together with adult men they meet on the Internet," Magid added.

The sheriff's department contacted the FBI, which was able to trace the teen to a Wednesday flight from New York's Kennedy International Airport to Tel Aviv, Israel, with a stop in Amman, Jashinske said.

U.S. officials persuaded her to return home from Amman, FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman said from the agency's Detroit office.

Lester apparently contacted the man from Jericho about three months ago, Jashinske said. Jericho is an oasis city of 17,000 and a place of relative calm in the West Bank, where Israelis and Palestinians frequently clash.

The Associated Press left messages Friday seeking comment from Lester's family.

Lester's mother told The Saginaw News that her daughter has "never given me a day's trouble. ... I just don't understand with all these new laws protecting America how a 16-year-old kid could get out of the country."

Jashinske said deputies confiscated the family's home computer and were going to take it to the FBI's Bay City office Friday for analysis. He said it remained unclear whether the law had been violated because of her age. The age of consent in Michigan is 17.

"I'll be honest with you, we don't know if a crime's been committed," he said. "She had a meeting online with the gentleman" from Jericho. An online conversation with a 16-year-old is not illegal under Michigan law, but solicitation for sex would be, Jashinske said.
  • Melissa McNamara

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