A woman on a Seattle-to-San Jose flight helped to catch a man who was planning to molest two children. She was sitting on the plane when she glimpsed at the messages being sent by the man sitting in front of her.

The woman, after reading the disturbing texts, alerted the crew. The crew then alerted local authorities, and the man was arrested on arrival.

Michael Kellar, 56, and Gail Burnworth, 50, of Tacoma, Washington, were arrested after a passenger spotted Kella's lewd text messages. Image Credit: San Jose Police Department
Michael Kellar, 56, and Gail Burnworth, 50, from Tacoma, Washington, were arrested after a passenger spotted Kella’s lewd text messages. Image Credit: San Jose Police Department

The woman ended up saving two Washington children from a sexual-servitude scheme. The woman who received the passenger’s texts was also arrested.

Flight passenger saved two children from further suffering from a sexual molester

The passenger and his accomplice were taken into custody on charges of sexually exploiting minors. Sgt. Brian Spears of the San Jose Police told CNN that if it weren’t for the passenger taking action to alert the staff and the police, the “catastrophic event would have been horrific.”

“It’s kind of mind-blowing,” San Jose sex crimes Detective Nick Jourdenais told The Mercury News. “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.”

The incident took place Monday during a Southwest Airlines flight. According to the San Jose police, the woman –a Seattle-area preschool teacher– saw a male passenger seating in the front row texting someone on a large smartphone.

Sgt. Spears said the passenger was able to take photos of the man’s texts because the font and the screen were large. Spears noted the messages were extremely disturbing. Jourdenais, who interviewed her, said the texts she saw had escalated from sexual fetishes to far worse acts. The woman was outraged by the conversation and alerted the flight crew. A flight attendant member called for police working at the Mineta San Jose International Airport on landing.

The woman managed to peek over Kellar's phone thanks to its large font size. Image Credit: Matt Slocum / AP Photo
The woman managed to peek over Kellar’s phone thanks to its large font size. Image Credit: Matt Slocum / AP Photo

Police officials detained 56-year-old Michael Kellar, of Tacoma, Washington, upon landing. The San Jose Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) as well as the FBI in San Jose took custody of Kellar.

The San Jose police reported Kellar was charged with two counts of attempt child molestation and two counts of solicitation of a sex crime.

Female suspect was reportedly abusing two children on Kellar’s orders

Detectives Jourdenais and Michael O’Grady interviewed Kellar, who consented to a search of his phone. He told the investigators the texts were nothing more than fantasy and role playing. Authorities contacted their counterparts in Seattle, who along with some FBI agents tracked down a woman’s home in Tacoma where the recipient of the texts lived.

The detectives obtained search warrants for the Tacoma house where the woman lived and for the residence of the male suspect, according to Seattle police. They reported that there was information that the recipient had access to children either as a babysitter or a caregiver. They found that the woman lived with her ex-husband, her wife, and three children.

The police confirmed that the case was more than disturbing texts. Two children aged 5 and 7 who lived with her were being sexually abused. Detectives believe that Kellar made sexual requests for the children and that the woman carried them out. She was identified as 50-year-old Gail Burnworth.

‘If you see something, say something’

Burnworth was booked into the Pierce County jail in Washington on Monday on counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, rape of a child 1st degree and dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, according to the San Jose Police. However, she was no longer listed as in custody on the county corrections website on Friday.

Capt. Mike Edwards, the commander of Seattle police’s ICAC task force, said they had to release her because prosecutors didn’t get the charging papers to the court within the 72 hours after her arrest. However, later on Friday, FBI agents arrested Burnworth again on a federal warrant for conspiracy to produce child pornography.

Burnworth is being held without bond, as well as Kellar, and has a court appearance Monday. Jourdenais noted the case was a powerful example of how vigilance can take various forms.

“We always preach ‘If you see something, say something.’ It was apparent to her to say something,” said Jourdenais. “She wasn’t going to take this home. She sees herself as a guardian and protector. It should be acknowledged.”

The King County Prosecutor’s Office in Washington said is reviewing the case for charges in Washington state, and it is also talking with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to see whether federal charges would apply. The two children are now safe, said the San Jose police.

Source: The Mercury News