Federal agents announced the results of one of the largest online child exploitation investigations in history Tuesday, involving victims in 37 states and five foreign countries.
Operation Round Table, run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations team, resulted in the arrest of 14 suspected producers and distributors of child pornography.
Federal investigators have identified and made contact with more than 250 victims of the Internet child pornography ring - including five victims from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and 19 total from Texas.
"Many of the victims were not aware that they were even exploited and that their images were being recorded and subsequently shared by predators globally," said David Marwell, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Dallas office.
Nearly all of the identified victims - 243 of the 251 total - were male, and more than half of the 159 victims were between 13 and 15 years old, according to investigators.
Many of the victims willingly posed for and shared suggestive photographs of themselves with people who they believed to be peers they had met online, Marwell said.
In reality, the assumed peers were predators who shared the nude and semi-nude photographs on the Darknet's Onion Router, also known as Tor, according to investigators.
"Kids don't think they're in any danger," said Lynn Davis, president and CEO of the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center.
Young people are savvy Internet users across many formats and their guardians need to be aware of who they interact with, Davis said.
Young people may be more willing to put themselves in precarious positions because they do not fully grasp the possible impact of their actions, Davis told NBC 5.
"So some of these kids will still not consider themselves victims until one day they wake up and realize, 'I sent some pictures out there.' And once those pictures are on the Internet you can never get them back," Davis said.
Help ID Possible DFW-Based Suspect
In addition to the 14 people who were arrested and charged in connection to Operation Round Table, federal authorities have requested help in identifying a suspect who produced and posted pornographic photographs involving a baby in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
John Doe [pictured below] is believed to be between 18-20 years of age. In April 2013, he posted photographs of himself sexually abusing a child between 12-18 months old, Marwell told NBC 5.
Based on clues in the pictures, investigators believe this person may now live in, or visited North Texas at the time the photos were taken and posted, according to a release from ICE.
In the photographs, the suspect is wearing a cap with the logo, "Shut Up N Play." At the time, the cap had not been made available for sale, except for very limited distribution within North Texas, according to ICE.
If you recognize the person in this photo, please contact 1-866-347-2423.