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Woman arrested for luring

By Raymond Bowe, Barrie Examiner

A Barrie teenager is distraught after his online flame was arrested upon returning to Texas where she could face a stiff jail sentence.

A Texas woman who travelled to Barrie last week to meet a 16-year-old boy she'd met on the Internet is not facing any charges in Canada, but she was nabbed by police Tuesday morning after her plane landed in Houston.

Lauri Price, 42, has been charged in Texas with two counts of online solicitation of a minor and one count of child enticement.

However, Texas law enforcement officials say Price could also face federal charges, including child sex tourism, where a person travels outside the country with the intent of having sex with a minor.

"She could face up to 60 years federal time and 30 years state time," said Lt. Matthew Gray, commander of the multi-jurisdictional Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force. "We're looking at a maximum 90-year sentence, but she could get anything from probation to (90 years)."

The Texas investigation continues.

"There's still a lot of chats (to be reviewed) and computer forensics that has to be done," Gray said. "We need to build our case, just to make sure we make the best case possible in the interest of justice and that we don't miss anything."

The investigation includes cooperation from Barrie police. All of the information will then be presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Gray said.

Family members say Barrie teenager Andrew Kane is distraught over what has transpired with his online girlfriend, whom he met more than a year ago through an online chat room devoted to the video gameWorld of Warcraft.

The Kanes were told Wednesday that Price had been arrested.

"We are relieved that she and Andrew can no longer communicate," his mother, Marlene Kane, toldThe Barrie Examiner."He completely understands that she's been arrested and that they cannot contact each other."

The boy's family says Price may also have been in Canada before. Their online relationship is believed to have started sometime around October 2008.

"Our main concern, naturally, is for Andrew. He's been through quite a bit. We're focusing all of our attention, love, strength and support on him," Kane said.

Kane said her son is "struggling" with the situation.

"He had strong feelings (for her)," Kane said. "They had been in contact for quite some time and he feels a sense of responsibility, as any teenager might. However, he's getting the support he needs. I'm confident that he'll recover and he'll be back to school and back to doing what he does very soon, I hope."

Kane said her son comes from an "extremely close" family.

"Andrew has been completely honest with me about everything," she said.

Andrew's aunt, Linda Young, described his mental state as "depressed."

"When he's in the family atmosphere, he's great -- he's socializing with my kids. But when he's off on his own, he's pretty down and out," said Young, who is the sister of Andrew's mother.

"He is a pretty tough kid, but I think it's going to take him a while, for sure," Young said, adding the Grade 11 student will be even more dejected when he learns how much jail time Price could receive if convicted. "Not that he's not already devastated, but he's under 24/7 surveillance, absolutely. Marlene doesn't leave him alone for a minute."

Young said Andrew continues to be deeply affected by what has happened, since being returned to his family last week.

"He seems to be getting a little worse, because he knows that she's done something wrong and it was kind of inevitable that she was going to be arrested," she said. "That terribly upsets him . . . but I think he feels he didn't want her to be the only one punished."

The family has rallied around the teen during what they say is a confusing period of his life.

"Marlene is spending a lot of time with him, and his extended family -- aunts, uncles, cousins -- we're trying to spend as much time with him (as possible)," Young said. "We're his support system."

Andrew's family was aware of the odd relationship, which included a 26-year age gap. He was placed in counselling in a bid to end the bizarre kinship.

POLICE INVESTIGATION

Barrie police launched a missing person investigation on Dec. 30 after Andrew's family told authorities that their son had been involved in a lengthy Internet relationship with an older American woman.

The teen had left home in the middle of the night to be with the mother of four who had flown to Canada to be with him.

Local police say Price flew from Texas to Toronto on Dec. 29. She then rented a car in Mississauga and drove north to Barrie to meet up with Andrew, whom she picked up around 2 a.m.

The pair was located Dec. 31 at an Orillia movie theatre. They were brought back to Barrie to be interviewed by police. No charges were laid. Andrew was returned to his family and Price flew home to Texas.

Barrie police Sgt. Robert Allan said the interview touched on several issues, including whether Andrew went with the woman willingly, whether he was in danger and simply to wrap up a missing person investigation.

There was no information that the pair entered into a sexual relationship, however.

"The perception in the public is that they did," Allan said. "But I'm not aware that they did."

The age of consent in Canada is 16 years old, but it's 17 in Texas.

"She enticed him to leave home. That's illegal in the state of Texas," Harris County prosecutor Eric Devlin told the Houston Chronicle. "It doesn't even matter if it's within the age of consent in a foreign country."

The Houston Chroniclehas also confirmed that Price was a substitute teacher in the Houston area, although the school board removed her name from their substitute list when they learned of the arrest.

Price was arrested on the plane around 12:30 a.m., Tuesday. She remains in custody at the Harris County Jail in lieu of a $310,000 bond.

Texas police officials were notified by the state Attorney- General's office after a Canadian story regarding a Houston woman made it to the southern United States on the weekend.

"We began looking into exactly what was going on with the situation there," said Gray, who has been in contact and has received information from both Barrie police and Marlene Kane.

The online solicitation of a minor charge relates to any sexually explicit conversation with a person under 18.

"Being that she was here in Texas when some of these conversations were taking place, she (allegedly) committed that offence," Gray said, adding the e-mails were "very sexually explicit."

"She talks about all the big things she's going to do to him sexually," Devlin toldThe Houston Chronicle.

The child enticement charge can be laid if a person tries to remove a child from the custodial rights of their parents to engage in sexual activity.

American prosecutors also allege that Price formulated Andrew's plan to run away and also coached him in writing the one-page note left behind for his family, which included a reference to the commitment he and Price had to each other.

"This whole note was an email message found in Andrew's email," Young said.

CROSS-BORDER CASE

The investigation involved not only Barrie cops, but also the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as immigration and customs. Price's passport was flagged so Texas police would be aware of her arrival back in America.

Gray received a phone call that Price was scheduled to arrive around midnight.

"We were at the airport and actually removed her off the plane, placed her in custody and took her down to the jail," Gray said yesterday afternoon.

Barrie police weren't shocked that their counterparts in Texas laid criminal charges.

"It's not surprising. Interesting, I'll say," Allan said. "But they have different laws. While I can't comment on their laws, I'm sure it's been properly investigated. She'll have her day in court.

"At the end of the day, we wanted to satisfy ourselves, the family and the community that this person was safe," the sergeant added. "A positive message went out that we look after our kids in this community."

Barrie police Sgt. Robert McLeod, who led the missing person investigation, said local police weren't aware that Texas police were planning to arrest Price when she returned home. However, he said the two police forces are working "hand-in-hand."

"They'll have full co-operation from us," McLeod said, including what was discussed during police interviews at Barrie police headquarters.

"This (arrest) was initiated by them, not us," Allan said, adding Price was "fully co-operative" and "forthright" with Barrie investigators before being sent on her way.

Although Price co-operated with Barrie police, Marlene Kane also spoke to officials with the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

"She wanted to make sure this didn't happen to anyone else," Young said, adding her sister's reaction to Price's arrest was to be expected.

"She was . . . I don't even know how to put. She was happy, but she wasn't," Young said. "She's definitely happy that Ms. Price isn't going to get away with her actions, but, at the same time, she's dealing with a devastated teenager."

Kane said she was surprised that no charges could be laid in Canada due to the consent laws.

"In my opinion, 16-year-olds are not emotionally prepared for this type of thing," she said. "But there are laws, although I think it definitely needs re-examining, given this situation. If it can happen to my son and our family, it can happen to anyone."

rbowe@thebarrieexaminer.com



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