A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Seattle, Washington to San Jose, California, is being called a hero after she helped save two young children from sexual abuse. The passenger, a Seattle-area preschool teacher who chose to remain unnamed, became suspicious when she caught a glimpse of the texts a man seated in front of her was sending.The man, now identified as 56-year-old Michael Kellar from Tacoma, Washington, was sending and receiving sexually explicit texts on his phone, which was easily detected by the passenger behind him, as both his phone screen and font sizes were quite large.
Reading in the plain sight of other passengers, the man’s texts began on the topic of sexual fetishes, but soon grew much darker.“It was in large font, and she sees certain words and starts contemplating there’s something bigger there,” San Jose sex-crimes Detective Nick Jourdenais told the Mercury News. “Then the conversation transitions to children. That’s the moment when she decided to preserve the evidence as best as she could.”
The school teacher documented the texts and promptly alerted the flight crew, who then, upon landing, contacted the San Jose police and its airport division at Mineta San Jose International Airport, where the plane was set to land.Police and FBI agents detained Kellar at the terminal, and while interviewing him got consent to search his phone. Kellar said he believed the texts to be simply fantasy and roleplay: not grounded in any real-life actions. But when officers tracked down the person on the receiving end of Kellar’s texts, 50-year-old Gail Burnworth, they found that the texts exchanged were indeed being horrifically carried out in real life.Using evidence on Kellar’s phone, police located Burnworth’s home. When they arrived at her house in Tacoma, Washington, they found that she had been carrying out Kellar’s sexual requests on two children, aged five and seven.
Burnworth worked as a babysitter, which is reportedly how she had access to the children, although no specific information has been released regarding her relationship to the children or Kellar.Keller is now being held without bail in Santa Clara County jail on two felony counts of attempted child molestation, and two felony counts of solicitation of a sex crime.Burnworth is being held at Pierce County jail in Washington on felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, rape of a child, and dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Police are calling the schoolteacher who reported the texts a life-saver:“It’s kind of mind-blowing,” said Detective Jourdenais. “She gets on a plane, a normal citizen minding her business. A couple of hours later, she’s intervening on quite possibly the most traumatic thing children can go through. This was life-altering for them.”While the potential abuse of children may have struck a particular chord with this schoolteacher, hopefully most people would follow the notion of ‘see something, say something’ when encountering texts like these. This woman’s choice to speak up undoubtedly changed lives, and shows the true meaning of refusing to be a bystander.