A passenger on a recent Southwest Airlines flight from Seattle to San Jose noticed something disturbing: The man seated in front of her was texting about sexually molesting young children, which she was able to read because of an enlarged font and big smartphone screen. She took pictures of the messages and alerted the flight crew, and police were able to save the young children as a result, BuzzFeed News reports.
San Jose police detained Tacoma, Washington, resident Michael Kellar, 56, in the airport terminal after flight attendants notified them of the text messages. They collaborated with Seattle detectives, using data and evidence from Kellar’s phone, to target the man’s Tacoma home, where they discovered that the woman he was living with — Gail Burnworth, 50 — was allegedly carrying out his sexual requests on two children, ages 5 and 7. Burnworth reportedly worked as a babysitter, which is how she had access to the children.
BuzzFeed News reports that she was being held at Pierce County jail in Washington on felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, rape of a child, and depicting a minor engaged in sexual conduct. Kellar is being held without bail at Santa Clara County jail on counts of felony attempted child molestation and felony solicitation of a sex crime.
The woman who saw the texts — a preschool teacher based in Seattle — is now being heralded as a “hero” by police. San Jose sex-crimes detective Nick Jourdenais told the Mercury News, “It’s kind of mind-blowing. 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.”