The internet has changed the way law enforcement officials fight crime, but it's also enabling the average citizen to help authorities.
A Brookings man has set up a personal blog, dedicated to finding missing kids and sex offenders. He’s already helped police around the nation find two missing teens.
Tim Caya's been posting pictures of missing kids and wanted sex offenders on his MySpace account since June of this year. The first case he helped solve was in July, when a woman saw Caya's site, called “Our Missing Kids,” and contacted him.
"Her sister ran away from a drug treatment center in Florida, and I just helped her make a bulletin to find her," Caya said.
In the MySpace world, people who are linked to your site are called "friends." So if that bulletin was sent to one person and sent it to all their friends, and they sent it to all their friends, the word can spread pretty quickly.
"She had probably 700 friends post and I had 18,000, so it just keeps getting around and they got some tips on her."
The girl was found and returned to her family. The story was featured on the national T.V. show Geraldo At Large, and also in an August issue USA Today.
Caya says the idea for the website came after reading about what he calls a poor decision from a judge in Nebraska.
"She said the child molester was too short to go to prison,” he said. “After that, I thought, this is ridiculous. These judges keep letting these guys off until a body turns up."
Caya posts pictures and descriptions of all sorts of people and situations - missing kids, abducted kids runaways, Amber Alerts, wanted sex offenders.
He learns about the cases through other websites, such as America's Most Wanted and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And since so many people are on MySpace, the results can be immediate. Another case Caya helped with involved a runaway in Utah.
"I checked to see if she had a MySpace account and she did,” he said. “It turns out she's been logging onto it and pretty much said where she was staying in Arizona."
Caya posted a picture of the girl, and received messages from people who had seen her recently. He then passed that information onto police, and she too was found.
As a single father, Caya's work on the website is especially important to him. His three girls know that he helps get the word out about missing kids and sex offenders, and he warns them about opening up to anyone on the internet.
"If they want to do something, I've got to know where they are,” said Caya. “They say, ‘There's no such thing as a boogeyman.’ And I say, ‘Not a real one, but when these kids go missing, that's what the boogeyman is.’"
He's received hundreds of messages from people, thanking him for his work. But he's also received threats from people who don't believe his efforts are genuine.
"Some don't like when I post the wanted sex offenders, but that's part of the reason some of these kids are being kidnapped."
Caya's publicizing as many cases as he can, in hopes of protecting those who need it most.
To access Caya's MySpace account, click here.