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20 Youths Suspended In MySpace Case

A middle school student in Costa Mesa, Calif., faces expulsion for allegedly posting threats against a classmate on the popular Web site, and 20 of his classmates were suspended for viewing the posting, school officials said.

Police are investigating the boy's comments about his classmate at TeWinkle Middle School as a possible hate crime, and the district is trying to expel him.

According to three parents of the suspended students, the invitation to join the boy's MySpace group gave no indication of the alleged threat. They said the MySpace social group name's was "I hate (girl's name)" and included an expletive and an anti-Semitic reference.

A later message to group members directed them to a nondescript folder, which included a posting that allegedly asked: "Who here in the (group name) wants to take a shotgun and blast her in the head over a thousand times?"

Because the creator of a posting can change its content at any time, it's unclear how much the students saw.

"With what the students can get into using the technology we are all concerned about it," Bob Metz, the district assistant superintendent of secondary education, said Wednesday.

Metz said the students' suspensions in mid-Febuary were appropriate because the incident involved student safety. Some parents however questioned whether the school overstepped its bounds by disciplining students for actions that occurred on personal computers, at home and after school hours.

Two Men Charged In Connecticut MySpace Case

Two men used the Web site to set up sexual encounters with underage Connecticut girls, authorities said Thursday in what they described as the first federal sex cases involving the popular networking site.

The two unrelated cases come after weeks in which the site's potential dangers have been the topic of discussion for law enforcement, parents and school officials nationwide.

"The Internet has allowed people to invade our own homes, to have conversations with our children in the privacy of our own homes without us ever knowing about it," U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said.

In one case, Sonny Szeto, 22, traveled from Jersey City, N.J., to Connecticut in October and molested an 11-year-old girl in her playroom while her parents slept upstairs, according to an FBI affidavit.

In the other case, Stephen Letavec, 39, molested a 14-year-old Connecticut girl in his car while visiting from Elrama, Pa., in October, according to another FBI report. The FBI said Letavec made several visits to see the girl between last summer and January.

"I showed you what love is and how it feels," Letavec wrote in an e-mail found in the girl's school locker, according to the FBI report. "I want to show you how making love feels too, not just sex because there is a difference."

The girl signed onto MySpace as an 18-year-old, but told Letavec she was 14 before he visited, the FBI said.

Both men face federal interstate sex charges. Szeto, who has since moved to Queens, N.Y., was ordered placed on house arrest with his parents in Nashua, N.H. As of Thursday morning, prosecutors said he was still being held until his family could post $600,000 bond and cancel his Internet connection.

A message was left with the public defender's office, which represented Szeto.

Letavec, a volunteer firefighter, is being held without bond pending his arraignment in Connecticut. He was represented in Pennsylvania by a public defender, W. Penn Hackney, who would not comment and it was not immediately clear who his attorney would be in Connecticut.

MySpace, a division of News Corp., allows its 54 million users to find online friends by searching for their school or their interests. The site prohibits minors 13 and under from joining, discourages users from posting personal information and provides special protections for those 14 and 15.

"While we cannot comment on specific investigations, MySpace works with law enforcement at every level and fully supports the arrest and prosecution of those individuals found guilty of criminal offenses," MySpace said in a statement released Thursday.

While Internet safety advocates say MySpace has a good reputation for working to prevent illegal activity, they say children often lie about their age to get around those restrictions. Many profiles include suggestive photographs and lots of personal information.

Messages were left Thursday seeking comment from the company.

O'Connor said MySpace isn't at fault but rather is being exploited by pedophiles. But he raised concerns by some MySpace functions, including one that allows users to search for people who are questioning their sexual orientation.

And he said he would have "very serious reservations" about letting his own young children use such sites.

"MySpace should be completely innocent. Children should be allowed to go on MySpace and meet their own peers and have conversations with them," said FBI Agent Thomas Veivia. "But the people with nefarious intentions exploit that technology and target our children."

Police in Middletown, Conn., are investigating recent reports that as many as seven local girls were sexually assaulted by men in their 20s who contacted them through MySpace pretending to be teenagers.

Veivia said MySpace is getting a lot of attention but predicts that, like Internet Relay Chats and American Online chat rooms, it will soon give way to new technology that children and young adults will start using - with sexual predators and law enforcement following.

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