LAKELAND, Fla — An Indiana woman is behind bars for allegedly sending explicit photos to a young boy she met playing Fortnite online.
Detectives with the Lakeland Police Department’s Special Victim’s Unit, with the assistance of the Columbia City Police Department in Indiana, arrested 35-year-old Tabitha Palmer for criminal acts involving a minor in Lakeland that she met online playing video games.
According to detectives, on June 9, 2021, the parent of the 11-year-old boy reported finding sexual content on her son’s tablet.
Detectives interviewed the victim and conducted a forensic review of his tablet. They found evidence of an inappropriate online relationship that developed between Palmer and the boy over the course of seven to eight months. Palmer and the boy met and communicated while playing the popular online video game Fortnite.
In May of 2021, Palmer and the boy started using the popular gaming communication platform Discord. Detectives say the context of the messages became increasingly sexual. Over the period of one month, Palmer and the boy exchanged approximately 14,300 messages through the Discord platform.
Palmer allegedly started to expose the victim to explicit photographs and conversations, eventually encouraging him to engage in similar behavior.
Detectives were able to confirm the identity of Palmer and her location. Detectives Cory Lawson and Alex Urra, with the Lakeland Police Department’s Special Victim’s Unit, sought and received a warrant for Palmer’s arrest on August 2, 2021. The detectives traveled to Columbia City, Indiana, and with the assistance of the Columbia City Police Department, Palmer was arrested on August 5, 2021.
According to police in an interview, Palmer admitted to sending lewd images of herself and soliciting indecent images from the victim. Palmer also admitted to sending lewd images to at least three other juveniles between 12 and 14. Investigators are continuing to work to identify the three minors; however, all are believed to reside outside Florida.
"Thankfully, this child's parent was vigilant in reviewing the electronic device he was using and reported the illegal content immediately. It is crucial for parents to monitor their child's digital activity because you never know who is communicating with your child online. We are grateful for the outstanding work of the detectives in this case and the many other efforts the Special Victim’s Unit engages in to safeguard our most vulnerable citizens from those who would prey on them.-Chief Ruben Garcia
Tabitha Palmer was charged with nine counts of distribution of harmful material to a minor, one count of computer pornography; prohibited usage to seduce, solicit, lure or entice, and one count of unlawful use of two-way communication. All of the charges are third-degree felonies. Palmer is currently being held at the Whitely County Jail in Columbia City, Indiana, without bond awaiting extradition to Polk County.