Tevan Tobler: Mormon teen commits suicide after being blackmailed over explicit video sent to Ivory Coast predator posing as woman. Victim of sextortion.
Tevan’s mom, Tawra, said her son had no history of mental health issues, had never taken drugs, and had lots of friends at school. He was also, as she recalls it, constantly making plans for the future.
‘Everybody was surprised when they heard because they said, “Not Tevan.” Because he was an honor student, he was an undefeated wrestler on the wrestling team, he was on the varsity cross-country running team. He had years of his future planned out, college plans, plans of service,’ Tawra told Deseret News.
‘[We told police] “we know him better than that. This isn’t a normal case. Something is happening.”’
Tevan Tobler suicide didn’t fit the profile of normal self inflicted deaths:
Davis County sheriff’s detective John Pierce shared the Tobler family’s confusion over his death, noting that Tevan ‘had a good home life and a wonderful family,’ and failed to fit the mold of a teenager plagued by unprovoked internal despair.
It wasn’t until several weeks after his suicide that Tevan’s dad Randy Tobler decided to go through his son’s cellphone records, where he discovered an unknown number had texted Tevan more than 1,000 times – contacting him as much as every 30 seconds on some occasions.
Randy submitted the phone to the Sheriff’s office, later discovering a social media app had been downloaded to his phone, and a woman – or someone posing as a woman – had goaded the minor into sending an explicit video of himself.
Believed to be based on the Ivory Coast, the anonymous predator then used the video against Tevan, demanding he send money to ‘her’, unless he wanted his family and friends to view the images.
After Tevan told the scammer he didn’t have any more money left to give, the exchanges took an even more sinister turn, and the 16-year-old was urged to kill himself.
‘”You should end your life. You should take your life. You ruined your life. If you don’t, I’m going to ruin your life. You should take your life,”’ Tawra said the read.
The mother-of-five said she thinks her son thought he had no other way out, and feared he was about to lose everything he had spent his life working for.
Tevan Tobler suicide: ‘Sextortion scams can happen to anyone.’
The Tobler family are now urging other parents to educate themselves about so-called ‘sextortion’ cases, insisting it can happen to any child, no matter who or where they are.
‘I want to tell all parents that it doesn’t matter how close you think you are, you’re never as close as you think you are. Because I would have thought — I would have bet money — [Tevan] would have told me. But he didn’t,’ she said via the Deseret News.
‘You’re a 16-year-old boy. You’re not going to go to prison for showing your abs or for anything else at this point that’s not a true felony,’ she continued.
‘We’re really a religious family — it’s easy to feel shame, and to feel those things — and these people make you feel that because they know they can tear you down. It’s important that our kids don’t. We can help them not feel that way.’
In hindsight, the bereaved mother admits her son’s lack of social media experience may have made him naive about the dangers of predators.
Just two weeks separated the anonymous Ivory Coast troll making contact with Tevan and the teen taking his own life.
Detective Pierce said the scammer’s methods are some of the most manipulative the Davis County Sheriff’s Office has ever seen – calling them ‘relentless’.
Even after transferring all the money he’d been saving since his childhood, the harassment still continued. When Tevan decided to block one phone number, the assailant would find a different way to reach him.
The sheriff’s office filed warrants against Yahoo, Snapchat, and Western Union – which Tevan used to transfer the money – to try and locate the suspect who encouraged his suicide.
‘The case was traced back to Africa. The Davis County Sheriff’s Office started working with Homeland Security Investigations for assistance. The embassy in the region was supporting us, and the county attorneys wanted to prosecute the case aggressively,’ Pierce said.
Authorities later discovered the scammer is also the culprit behind a second suicide in France, following a remarkably similar extortion attempt.
But the investigation’s trail went cold when they found the suspect to be residing in a poor, high crime area in rural Africa, with little electricity and hut-styled homes.
The lack of infrastructure and an IP address would make identifying the responsible party near-impossible, police say. Also, extraditing the suspect to face charges in the US would also be unlikely.
Pierce admitted investigators on his team were ‘emotionally invested in the case’ and says it was incredibly frustrating not being able to give the Tobler family closure on the matter.
Tevan was revealed to have never spoken of the scammer or the predicament he was ensnared in.
‘He was so scared and so worried and so concerned, he didn’t dare tell anybody. He has some pretty close friends. He didn’t tell them. He didn’t tell us,’ Tawra Tobler said to Deseret News.
‘Everything seemed really normal. I know Tevan, and I don’t know how he hid it so well. Because he didn’t hide other things as well. He’s really affectionate. He loved to just come lay in our bed and talk to us. You know, we felt like we were pretty open.’