Some local men behind trending online videos shaming alleged sex predators through catfishing stings hosted a free presentation for parents in Eastlake Monday night. The two Riverside County fathers behind the videos call themselves, “Gotcha Predators.”
“There’s so many men willing to meet up with children,” founder EJ Twyman said. “And willing to drive hours. Willing to talk to children for days, luring them into a situation.”
Here’s how it works: Twyman and partner Cai Irvin create fake online accounts with doctored photos showing what appears to be young boys and girls. They wait for men to solicit them. Then they tell the strangers they are underage.
Some men stop, but others keep sexting. Some men ask the fake account to meet in person.
The "Gotcha Predators" agree to a public place, and then unsuspecting men arrive expecting the person on the fake profile, instead coming face-to-face with a camera.
They’ve only been at this since November 2019, but their 20 videos posted on YouTube so far have garnered thousands of views, multiple shares and comments, donations from supporters, a sponsorship and now at least two criminal arrests.
Unlike other sex predator shaming groups online, Twyman and Irvin don't use masks or conceal their identities. They also don't hide the identities of their targets.
“These people are in our community,” Twyman said. “People need to see who these people are.”
“I’m a father of four,” Irvin said. “And the children they’re preying on are my kids age and it’s not going to happen in my city. It’s just not going to happen anymore.”
The message in the videos is clear: stay out of our town, and think twice before doing this again.
“Now we want to get them arrested,” Irvin said.
Both arrests featured in recent videos were for charges of sharing harmful material with intent to seduce a minor. Prosecutors have already filed felony charges against one, but none of the men in the videos have been convicted.
For Twyman, who was molested as a young child, this is extremely personal.
“It can do a lot to a child,” he said. “I’m still dealing with it right now at 26.”
He said the stings have empowered other victims of child sexual abuse to reach out to him and share their stories. Now, as a father of two, he wants parents to know they are not helpless when it comes to protecting their kids.
“I hope that people start to realize that as parents we can get up and do something,” Twyman said. “That’s all I want to spark.”
The videos have garnered online and local support. Community members have even donated camera equipment and USB drives to save incriminating conversations to give to police as evidence.
But not everyone is a fan.
“The fact that this was posted on social media extensively has been extremely detrimental to him,” said Tom Matthews, a criminal defense attorney who represents one of the two men recently targeted, and ultimately arrested.
“What they’re doing is obviously good for society,” Matthews said. “But if they’re making mistakes and not doing things the right way, prosecutions therefore can’t be successfully generated or handled.”
NBC 7 asked Twyman and Irvin why they don't leave this stuff to police?
"What are we supposed to do as fathers?” responded Irvin. “As this becomes more rampant? As this becomes a pandemic?"
Riverside County Sheriff spokeswoman Deputy Robyn Flores sent NBC 7 the statement below:
After speaking with the investigations unit that have been in contact with “Gotcha Predators,” I was informed that we do not work them or give them direction. The investigators have advised the folks associated with this group of the potential risks involved with conducting these types of investigations. While we encourage the public to contact law enforcement if they suspect criminal activity, we don’t encourage them to take matters into their own hands and put themselves at risk.