South Carolina

Internet predator who used chat room to lure Columbia teen to Texas gets 20 years

He was the nightmare of every parent whose child has a computer or an iPad.

Posing as psychologist, sexual predator Robert Christiansen met a Columbia 16-year-old girl in an Internet “chat room.” He convinced her to take a bus to Texas, where — unknown to her — he planned to lock her in a room and use her for sex.

The teen got on a Greyhound bus, using a ticket that he had bought her. But thanks to quick action by the FBI, which worked with T-Mobile to “ping” the location of the teen’s cell phone, police stopped the bus that she was on and rescued her, just short of Houston.

On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Christiansen, 58, to 20 years in prison. If he serves out that sentence, Christiansen will have to register as a sex offender, his computer use will be restricted and he will have to avoid contact with children under 18.

“Mr. Christiansen has committed one of the most serious offenses,” said U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour, adding he meticulously planned to bring the teen-ager under his spell on the Internet and get her to his Texas house, and has shown no remorse.

In earlier statements, Christiansen had told FBI agents that he was just trying to help the teen-ager — a version of events ridiculed Thursday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May.

“”He wasn’t trying to help the child. He was trying to have sex with the child,” May told the judge. “He went out of his way to find children who had issues and then groom them by acting as if he were some sort of mental-health professional.”

Christiansen — a short, bespectacled unshaven man in a brown jail jump suit — spoke for more than 10 minutes at the hearing, claiming he just wanted to set up a home to help troubled children. “If a kid was going to run away, he or she would run to a home with American values,” he told the judge.

Christiansen made conflicting statements about the girl, whom he never met in person, denying he wanted to have sex with her.

That prompted Judge Seymour to say, “Mr. Christiansen, you pleaded guilty to the enticement of a minor for purposes of sex.”

“For biological reasons,” Christiansen replied. “I don’t have sex any way. So why worry about it?”

Federal public defender Jimmy Rogers told the judge that brain surgery that Christiansen had years ago has interfered with his ability to think clearly.

“He needs help,” Rogers told the judge, asking for a light sentence. “You can see by the way he is talking there are some issues here.”

Christiansen was arrested in June 2017 by FBI agents who swooped down on him at the Greyhound bus station in Houston. He had planned to meet the teen there and drive her to San Antonio, where he lived.

Videotaped after his capture by FBI agents, Christiansen confessed to bringing the teen to Texas so he could lock her in a bedroom at his home and have sex with her whenever he wanted.

Last June, Christiansen went on trial in Columbia federal court for luring the teen to Texas. However, after his confession was played to the jury, he agreed to plead guilty.

A mental exam had found him fit to stand trial.

Evidence in the case included numerous text messages that Christiansen exchanged with the teen over a period of months.

Some text messages, including those he sent to the teen while she was on the bus traveling to Texas, were sexually explicit. He also gave her instructions on how to “clear your cookies, cache and history on your Apple devices” so her parents wouldn’t know about the relationship, according to court records.

Joe Ryan, the S.C. attorney general’s education coordinator for the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said in an interview that parents need to be vigilant about what their children do on the Internet.

While software monitoring and parental controls can be useful, Ryan — who speaks to schools and groups — said it is crucial that parents have open conversations with their children about how to be safe online and “always have an open door should an issue arise.”