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Missing Vermont girl linked to MySpace activity

I was working on putting the pictures and videos from the belt graduations up here when I heard this story on the news. I will work to get the graduation stuff up later but this is a very important issue and I felt compelled to place this first.

Below is the full AP story about the disappearance of a Vermont girl. At this point, authorities really do not know what happened however they believe there may be a connection to the social networking website MySpace and her disappearance.

I hope they find this young girl safe and sound. But as we at Zandri’s Martial Arts are advocates for child safety and self defense, we feel it is our duty to discuss the online threat to our children and talk about how parents can take steps to make sure their children are safe.

The most popular Social networking sites are MySpace and Facebook, especially with teens and young adults. These sites allow people to connect with anyone all over the world. These sites are also popular with sex offenders and other types of predators.

If you as a parent are not familiar with these sites, go online and familiarize yourself. Being familiar with what these things are and what they do is your first line of defense. Do a search on these sites for your child’s name. You may be surprised to find them out there.

There are laws beginning to appear in some states that prohibit sex offenders from having accounts on these sites. Convicted sex offenders must turn over all emails to authorities. If they create new emails, they are expected to let the authorities know.

BROOKFIELD, Vt. (AP) — The search for a missing 12-year-old Vermont girl who triggered the state’s first Amber Alert centered Friday on the social networking site MySpace after divers discovered nothing in a lake near where some of her belongings were found, police said.

Brooke Bennett vanished Wednesday after being dropped off in the morning at a convenience store, where she was supposedly going to meet a friend and then go to a hospital to visit a relative of the friend.

Police now believe that was a ruse, and that the girl might have been going to meet someone she’d been communicating with online.

One day after issuing the alert, investigators focused Friday on someone she might have met online, the head of the Vermont State Police said.

“This case is about a MySpace visitation,” said Col. James Baker. “Our focus is on the communications Brooke may have had via that media.”

Video from an interior surveillance camera at the convenience store in Randolph, released Friday, showed the girl and her uncle walk into the store and then leave, each going in separate directions, with Brooke walking away by herself.

She was seen about 45 minutes later inside a coin laundry, police said.

Baker wouldn’t say whether she was alone at that point, nor would he say whether police suspect foul play.

“We don’t know if Brooke left with someone voluntarily. We don’t know if Brooke is in another state camping and has no idea that this whole thing is going on,” Baker said. “We’re not ready to say that she was kidnapped, but we made the decision yesterday to put that Amber Alert out, take a very liberal interpretation of what kidnap meant.”

Bennett, of Braintree, was reported missing about 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the alert was issued Thursday afternoon, after officials determined the girl’s MySpace activity could be related.

On Friday, state police dive teams searched Sunset Lake, near where items belonging to Brooke were found a day earlier by a family member. Baker said the divers found nothing.

Investigators from the State Police, FBI and other agencies were trying to track the girl’s movements after she was dropped off by her uncle and cousin. A major focus of the investigation centered on her online activities.

“As we all know, warnings have gone out countless times, in this world that we live in today, there are folks that visit places, social networking spaces such as MySpace, whose intentions are not good. And they come from far away,” Baker said.

MySpace officials posted an Amber Alert on their Web site and were being helpful, Baker said.

“MySpace takes the safety of our users very seriously,” its chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, said in a statement released by the company. “We are assisting the Vermont State Police Department and cannot comment any further as it is an ongoing investigation.”

Associated Press writer John Curran in Montpelier contributed to this report.

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