The question is creeping out parents in several states and vexing investigators across the South: Who is “Atur Bhuck of Santa Fe, NM”? And why has he been sending care packages to dozens of elementary school-age girls?
More than 50 students living in the Southeast — those are the ones that authorities know of, anyway — have received unsolicited packages containing food and a letter signed “Atur Bhuck,” according to a Facebook post by the Covington County (Alabama) District Attorney’s Office.
The office started its warning with the words “Predator alert.”
In the letter, Bhuck says he is 14, mentally disabled and, in the past, a target of bullying. He wanted the girls who received the packages to write him back via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the investigation has revealed a more dangerous aspect to the package sender, the district attorney’s office said. Investigators traced the IP address of the Gmail account, which appears to originate in Houston. Someone had used the email address to order and ship the packages.
And the same person’s IP address has appeared on websites talking about girls’ underwear.
Bhuck told others online that he had pen pals in Phenix City, Ala., investigators said, and wanted to know what kind of music to listen to with them.
Authorities haven’t released more information about Bhuck — including who owns the Houston IP address or the Gmail address they traced — and have not released the name of a suspect or announced any arrests.
It’s unclear how Bhuck figured out where the girls attend school.
Authorities encouraged any parent whose child has been targeted to call 334-222-2513.
The district attorney’s office and the FBI did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The incident appears to be a case of what experts call technology-facilitated grooming, where predators use the Internet to find young victims, learn as much as they can about them and make them more susceptible to exploitation.
School officials, the FBI and other investigators have been on alert.
Phenix City Schools Superintendent Randy Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer that officials “are aware of the situation and notified the parents last week.”
“Students in the school district had never been in contact with any mailing. No student was ever in contact with any mailing of the sort. … The matter is under investigation.”
According to Farley International, which consults in crimes against children, predators often target preteens or young teens, who are capable of using the Internet and corresponding on it but still vulnerable to predation.
Victims are commonly female and identified from postings or photos on social media.
A predator “spends an enormous amount of time talking with the victim initially online and then later utilizing a cellphone” and “encourages her to create a private email account and/or point of contact,” Farley International said in a slide show presentation aimed at law enforcement officers.
When the predator has identified a potential victim, he often “unexpectedly sends her e-cards or gifts.”