Homeland Security agents speak to Chicago students about online safety

Some students at a Chicago school got a hard lesson Thursday about child exploitation that starts online, from the people who investigate those heinous crimes.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations talked about the dangers lurking online to several classes at Melody Stem Elementary in West Garfield Park.

"Something as simple that they did when they were 15 years old, can ruin the rest of their life," said HSI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kim Preski.

From the reasons to never share a nude pic to the playbook of predators, agents from the Child Exploitation Team talked to 5th through 8th graders. 

Kids likely have heard some of the topics before, but not like this.

"I'm so glad our principal had the eyesight not to invite the police, not to invite the FBI but to invite Homeland Security. So kids really get it, that it's serious," said Dexter Leggins, Melody Stem Elementary Peace Center Liaison and Restoritive Justice Coordinator.

While the classroom conversation is for the kids, agents say parents must pay attention. 

"With summer comingt, the most important thing for parents — we would really like them to know what apps their children are using. That's huge. And to know who they're communicating with online. Check that device. Look at that device," said ASAC Preski.

Preski also says to check those apps to make sure privacy settings are on and locations are off so predators can't track kids. Also watch for hidden apps on your child's device. 


Another message school leaders hope these students hear is to talk to a trusted adult if there's a problem.

"I want them to know that the police, the school, teachers, counselors are not their enemies. They're just trying to protect you. And it makes kids feel a whole lot safer when they say Homeland Security is taking care of me," said Leggins.

They're hoping talking about it in the classroom can mean avoiding the trouble homeland security investigators see all too often.