A sharp-eyed airline passenger spotted a Tacoma man texting about sexually assaulting children, leading officers in San Jose to arrest him and his partner and find two young victims, authorities said Thursday.
Police said they arrested Michael Kellar at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Monday after a flight from Seattle.
The woman passenger was able to read and photograph what the 56-year-old suspect was writing because of how he was holding his smartphone on which he was using an enlarged font, according to the San Jose Police Department. The passenger notified the flight crew of Kellar's texts about sexually molesting children.
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When the plane touched down, a crew member contacted a San Jose police officer stationed at the airport. Kellar was detained by the police department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and agents with the San Francisco division of the FBI also responded.
"The conversations were very particular in regards to sex acts that were to be performed on ... children," San Jose police Sgt. Brian Spears said of the "disturbing" text messages.
He continued: "Some of the sex acts talked about not only molesting children, but performing beastiality."
An investigation led police to a female suspect, Gail Burnworth, of Tacoma, who was exchanging the illicit texts with Kellar. The 50-year-old was arrested by a Seattle-based Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and FBI division.
Police also located two children, ages 5 and 7, who were identified as victims and placed in protective custody. Burnworth, a childcare provider for the two kids, was involved in "some type of dating relationship" with Kellar, Spears said.
Spears described the female passenger as an "early childhood educator" in the Seattle area. "In my eyes, she is our hero," he said, because she prevented a "catastrophic" and "horrific" event, which had already been planned.
"If it wasn't for that young lady's actions, another sexual assault would have occurred," Spears said.
Kellar has been booked into the Santa Clara County Jail on two counts of felony attempted child molestation and two counts of felony solicitation of a sex crime.
Burnworth was booked into the Pierce County Jail in Washington state for felony sexual exploitation of a minor, felony rape of a child in the first degree and felony dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
People with information about the case are asked to call Detective Nick Jourdenais and Sgt. Brian Spears at 408-537-1397. Anonymous tips can be left at 408-947-7867.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.