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Oconto family raising awareness of sextortion after son's suicide

Landen Weigelt with his dad, mom and bonus mom. (Photo courtesy Weigelt family)
Landen Weigelt with his dad, mom and bonus mom. (Photo courtesy Weigelt family)
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OCONTO, Wis. (WLUK) -- Cases of sextortion are growing at a rapid rate across the country, so much so that federal authorities have issued a public safety alert. Children and teens are being coerced into sending explicit images online or through social media and then extorted for money.

In early May, FOX 11 reported on the case of Jordan DeMay. He was the Marquette, Michigan, teenager who died by suicide after being the victim of sextortion. The FBI worked with Nigerian authorities to charge three men from that country in connection to DeMay's death.

Now, a family in Oconto who lost their son only months ago in a similar sextortion case is sharing their story in hopes of helping others.

At 17 years old, Oconto High School junior Landen Weigelt was living his best life.

"He was a straight-A student for the most part," said Landen's mom, Cassie Andreas. "He never missed school. He was proud of having the perfect attendance."

"He was a pretty easygoing kid -- worked hard at a lot of stuff he did,” said his dad, Jared Weigelt.

A football and varsity basketball player, he had aspirations of going to college to be a counselor.

“He helped everybody. He helped me. He helped me with his little brother," said Landen's bonus mom, Jamie Weigelt. "He helped kids here. He was always willing to do whatever you needed him to do."

But on Feb. 7, when Landen needed help, he didn't ask for it.

“When I walked in, thinking back on it, there were things that were out of place, and I just didn't notice it, and from there it was just a whirlwind of emotions said Jamie. She found her bonus son, Landen, dead in his bedroom.

"I know the family very well, and it was just so upsetting to see them, with going through this, and to see that Landen was the victim of this,” said Capt. Kassie Dufek with the Oconto Police Department.

Through the investigation into Landen's death, Oconto police learned that he had been communicating with an unknown person on social media and he had shared nude images of himself. He was a victim of sextortion.

"The offender had used those images against Laden, manipulating him and threatening him," explained Dufek.

According to the data collected from Landen's cellphone, those threats ramped up in the hour before he died.

The offender demanded Landen pay them $700 to not share the images. When Landen said he didn't have the money, the offender said they'd take $300.

Landen eventually told the person on the other end of the messages, "I'm sorry but I think I would rather kill myself."

"It's hard to process it,” said Jared. “But I think he was beat down so much out of it that it didn't completely process to him what was really going on, and I think it was more of like, he was like, he thought by doing that it was a protection way for everybody else that it would be gone, but it's not. It's much bigger than what I think a lot of people think it is."

Authorities say Landen is just one of the thousands of teens targeted by people overseas in these sextortion schemes.

"It's more common than we think it is, and it's just getting it to be something that is talked about more and discussed more,” said Dufek.

Oconto police have handed the Weigelt case over to the FBI to continue investigating.

While Landen's family doesn't know if authorities will ever track down the people who led him to kill himself, the family hopes that sharing his story can raise awareness about sextortion.

"I feel that we are fortunate, as sad as it is to say, that we do have a why and we can build off of that and we can educate -- hopefully fulfil his counseling dream by maybe saving another child,” added Jamie.

And they want anyone who may find themselves in a sextortion situation, especially a child, to know they are not alone.

"As a child, you're going to make those mistakes, but it's never more important than your life,” said Cassie.

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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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