A former Fairfax County high school student is facing charges in connection with a trove of nude photos and videos of 14 underage girls from area high schools, Fairfax County police said Thursday.
Ergi Masati, 18, of Fairfax, has been charged with five counts of possessing child pornography for collecting the images in folders in an account with the online file-sharing service Dropbox. Masati graduated from Fairfax High School in 2017.
The trove came to light after someone sent an anonymous letter to the school resource officer at Chantilly’s Westfield High School in September. The letter contained links to two Dropbox accounts that contained the nude images, police said.
The investigation led to Masati, who was arrested Oct. 23, police said. Masati’s family declined to comment when reached by phone. An attorney was not listed for Masati in court records. He was released on $5,000 bond in October.
His arrest was not immediately announced because police said they were attempting to identify and notify all of the teens who were pictured in the photos and videos. Police said all of the teens have now been identified. They attended several high schools in Fairfax County between 2015 and 2017. All have graduated.
One of the victims was a 15-year-old girl, who took a nude photo of herself in front of a mirror, according to a search warrant. Police said all of the victims were aware that nude photos of themselves existed and none were taken surreptitiously.
Fairfax County police detective J. Katzman wrote in a search warrant that the two Dropbox accounts contained about 100 folders labeled with a name, nickname or other identifying information for a girl or woman, but police said many of the images did not constitute child pornography.
“It is really important that parents educate their children on Internet safety,” said Fairfax County police Second Lt. Jane Burns, who works in the Child Exploitation Unit. “Please remind your kids that they are responsible for what they post or share online.”
The case follows similar ones in Fairfax County and across the nation. Last May, reports of nude photos circulating at a Falls Church middle school mushroomed into an investigation that found illicit photos of nearly a dozen youths at two schools.
In 2013, three teenage boys at West Springfield High School were charged with child pornography after allegedly filming themselves engaging in drunken sex acts with at least six juvenile girls. The case generated headlines across the region.
Dealing with teens sharing nude images, or “sexting,” has become a thorny problem for teens, parents, school administrators, police, prosecutors and legislators.
In Virginia, many underage teens don’t realize they can be charged with felony child pornography for sharing images of themselves or fellow classmates, although most cases are resolved without such charges. Fairfax County police said they generally seek to charge in cases where teens are maliciously and aggressively sharing nude images of other juveniles.
Last year, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would have kept teens from being labeled sex offenders for willingly sharing nude images with each other. Sexting would have been treated as a misdemeanor, but the bill ultimately died in a House committee.