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'Landen's Lesson' raising awareness about sextortion

Landen Weigelt in his Oconto High School football jersey. (Photo courtesy Weigelt family)
Landen Weigelt in his Oconto High School football jersey. (Photo courtesy Weigelt family)
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OCONTO, Wis. (WLUK) -- An Oconto family is working to educate others about the dangers of sextortion after their son died by suicide.

Landen Weigelt, a junior at Oconto High School, died by suicide earlier this year. As FOX 11 has reported, the teen was a victim of sextortion. It’s a crime that federal authorities say is increasing at an alarming rate.

To protect other teens and their families from similar heartbreak, Landen's family has come up with a presentation they call “Landen's Lesson."

Seventeen-year-old Landen Weigelt was your typical teenager -- a student athlete who was preparing to ask his girlfriend to the prom. A helper by nature, he wanted to be a counselor when he grew up.

“Landen was a great student. He was fun, he was the life of the party, good academic student as well. So, to be here today talking about Landen in the past tense stings,” said Oconto High School Principal Adam DeWitt.

Landen's suicide after becoming the victim of sextortion shook not only his family, but the community.

“I have to be honest, I was shocked as well. I was completely shocked. I just did not expect that,” said Capt. Kassie Dufek with the Oconto Police Department.

Landen's death brought the crime of sextortion to the forefront of conversation in Oconto, as his family and the police department tried to understand exactly how something like this could happen.

“I just can’t, can’t understand why somebody would want to do that to a child," said Dufek. "That is so upsetting and frustrating, and it’s sickening.”

Authorities know that at some point, Landen sent nude photos of himself to the perpetrator via social media. That person then threatened to share those photos publicly if Landen didn’t pay hundreds of dollars. The threats and harassment became too much for the teen.

His death is just one of more than a dozen teen suicides across the country tied to sextortion.

“Had I had any idea of this to the extent of how common it is, I might have been able to have a five-minute conversation with him a little bit more in depth, and he might still be here," said Landen's mom, Cassie Andreas.

While federal authorities work Landen's case, trying to identify the perpetrators who are believed to be from overseas, his family has teamed up with the Oconto Police Department for a presentation they’re calling “Landen’s Lesson." The presentation includes Landen’s story and how the perpetrators were able to manipulate him. But it also emphasizes the need for anyone who may be a victim of sextortion to know they’re not alone.

“The biggest message is, they are not in trouble and nothing is ever too big, nothing is such a big mistake that you can’t ask for help,” said Dufek.

“It can happen to anybody but don’t get in that dark spot," said Landen's dad, Jared Weigelt. "You have to talk to people, you have to open up and talk. Even if it’s the worst possible thing you think of, you can get help.”

It's a message that's resonating with those who hear it. And one Landen's family says is helping them heal while saving lives and fulfilling Landen's career goals.

“We’ve had a lot of thank you from kids, from parents that the kids go home and talk about it and that’s all we ask for, that’s all we want -- for kids to talk about it," said Landen's bonus mom, Jamie Weigelt. "Even though he’s not going to be able to be a counselor, in some way he is because this is what is going to help kids.”

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If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, FOX 11 has various suicide prevention resources available.

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