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Teen’s secret signal for help leads to hotel rescue and alleged predator arrest

Posted at 4:07 PM, Mar 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-06 16:07:47-05

BOUNTIFUL, Utah (KSL) — A Davis County teen is home safe and a man is in jail after police believe the man traveled from California upon meeting the boy online, causing the 14-year-old to send a secret signal for help to his family.

That signal, plus some other steps the teen took, led police to a West Bountiful hotel room Sunday to make that rescue.

It also led to the arrest of 36-year-old Austin David Arnold and the questioning of three other adult men.

“This individual traveled here with the intent to harm a child,” said Stephanie Dinsmore with the Davis County Sheriff’s Office.

At first, the parents reported the 14-year-old as a possible runaway, Dinsmore explained, when he didn’t return home Sunday evening.

However, according to the affidavit of probable cause, the boy’s parents noticed he had changed his voicemail when they tried calling.

Dinsmore said that was a red flag for the family.

“This was something that the family had recently discussed as a possible safety tip in case something were to go wrong,” she said.

A couple of hours later, a family member got another signal from the teen.

“The teen had shared their location with a family member, and that was obviously given to investigators immediately and the juvenile was located,” Dinsmore said.

The charging document explains that investigators found the teen with four adult men in a hotel room. They believe Arnold sexually abused the teen and had visited him before.

“Arnold stated that he had travelled to Utah around November or December of 2023, where he met up with the victim,” the charging document states. “Arnold admitted that he and the victim had discussed plans to go to California to stay with Arnold.”

The Davis County Sheriff’s Office questioned and released the three other adult men in the hotel room. Dinsmore said it’s possible there could be more charges in this case.

She urged all parents to require their kids to share their location at all times and to set up a code word.

“What we tell people in our Internet Safety Course is to have code words. And so this is something that you could text to a family member if you’re in a bad situation,” she said.

Dinsmore also said parents need to know every app their child is using and to look through each app. She explained that some apps purposely appear to be a simple function like a calculator when really, they are a place to store photos and messages undetected by parents.

“You have to stay on top of this,” she said. “You need to understand these new apps and technologies that are coming out every single day.”

She suggested that parents not allow their children to have their cell phones in their rooms with them at night, and to do random checks of messages.

It’s also important to have conversations around phone safety.

“They need to be things that you’re constantly talking and refreshing your children, that there are these predators. They will go to lengths that you cannot fathom,” Dinsmore said.

In this case, the teen is home safe while the alleged predator is in jail.

“Fortunately, this juvenile took a couple of steps that helped his family and investigators locate and safely bring them home,” Dinsmore said.