By SASHA GOLDSTEIN
A sprawling central Virginian “sexting” ring was busted up by authorities after pictures of naked 14- and 15-year-olds sprang up on Instagram, cops say.
The disturbing investigation revealed more than 1,000 pictures, some videos and more than 100 involved teens through six different counties who may not realize sharing such photos of underage kids can be a felony, police told the Central Virginian.
"Out of those thousand images, there are some of them that are not sexually explicit, but are what we would call inappropriate or provocative — in their underwear,” Major Donald A. Lowe, chief deputy of the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, told the newspaper. “It looks like the majority will be sexually explicit.”
A mother tipped off authorities last month after she noticed some scandalous photos on her child’s Instagram profile. Once police started digging, they found two different Instagram accounts that allowed teens to access them only if they shared a nude photo or scantily clad photo of themselves first.
Officers then learned teens from Louisa, Fluvanna, Orange, Goochland, Albemarle and Hanover counties were sharing photos of themselves either on the site or by sexting each other, the newspaper reported.
About 23 cellphones have been seized as authorities look into the massive ring.
Photos of naked underage teens is child pornography, a felony criminal charge in the state that could even lead to lifelong registration as a sex offender if convicted.
Police are still in the early stages of investigation, and no arrests have been made.
“I think if people thought for a minute and didn't do that, they'd save themselves a lot of grief … They're having fun but I can tell you colleges and universities, agencies who hire people, including us, look for those things and those are not going to be positive if they're found in a kids' past," Goochland Sheriff Jim Agnew told WWBT-TV.
Teens told the TV station sexting is a common occurrence — and parents said they put limits on their kid’s Internet access to prevent such pictures.
Lowe, the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said it starts with personal responsibility.
"We're trying to save these teens from themselves," he told the NBC affiliate.