Plane passenger helps cops bust 2 people texting about molesting kids, police say
By Carma Hassan and Joe Sterling, CNN
(CNN) — If you see something, say something.
A woman on a Seattle-to-San Jose, California flight this week took that law enforcement mantra to heart when she spotted a fellow passenger allegedly texting about sexually molesting children, San Jose police said.
She immediately alerted the crew, leading police in two states to arrest a man and a woman on charges of sexually exploiting minors.
Two young children have been identified as victims and are now safe, San Jose police said.
“I’d like to highlight that if it wasn’t for this particular passenger taking action to alert the staff and alert the police, this catastrophic event would have been horrific,” San Jose Police Sgt. Brian Spears told CNN.
The incident unfolded Monday on a Southwest Airlines flight.
The woman, who’s an early childhood educator, saw a male passenger seated in front of her texting the material, the San Jose police said.
The font and screen were large, so the passenger took photos of the man’s text conversation, Spears told CNN, adding that the texts were “extremely disturbing.”
The woman told the flight crew, and a crew member summoned police upon landing at the Mineta San Jose International Airport.
Officers detained Michael Kellar, 56, of Tacoma, Washington, according to San Jose police. The San Jose Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the FBI in San Jose responded, and the task force arrested Kellar.
He was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail in California on two counts of attempted child molestation and two counts of solicitation of a sex crime, San Jose police said.
Two suspects booked
The detectives looked at the man’s phone and found the text-messaging recipient — a woman in the Tacoma, Washington area, Seattle police said.
There was “information that the woman had access to the children either as a caregiver or a babysitter,” Seattle police said.
Investigators tracked down the woman at a residence in the Tacoma area where she lived with her ex-husband, his wife and three children, police said.
“The detective obtained search warrants for the Tacoma home and the residence of the male suspect,” Seattle police said.
The woman has been identified as Gail Burnworth, 50, according to San Jose police.
She was booked Monday into the Pierce County jail in Washington for sexual exploitation of a minor, first-degree rape of a child and dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, San Jose police said. The county corrections website on Friday listed her as no longer in custody.
Authorities released Burnworth because prosecutors didn’t get the charging documents to the court within 72 hours, said Capt. Mike Edwards, commander of Seattle police Internet Crimes Against Children task force.
Later Friday, the FBI arrested Burnworth on a federal warrant for conspiracy to produce child pornography, the agency said.
Due in court
Burnworth’s initial appearance is set for Monday in federal district court in Tacoma, FBI and Justice Department officials told CNN.
Kellar is due to appear Monday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to Spears and the court calendar.
Attempts by CNN to reach attorneys for the accused have been unsuccessful.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office in Washington is reviewing the case for state charges and is in consultation about federal charges.