A South Bay mother is speaking out in hopes that her family's tragedy will help prevent other families from facing the same heartbreak.
Pauline Stuart says her 17-year-old son Ryan Last died by suicide following what police say was cyber blackmail — something the family says happened suddenly and without any warning.
Stuart said one night in late February, Last got a message on social media from someone who appeared to be a girl and they struck up a long conversation.
"They sent him a picture," Stuart said. "Then they asked for one in return. And as soon as he did, they demanded $5,000 from him."
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Scared, Last sent some money from his college fund only for the blackmailer to demand even more. That's when Last took his own life.
"They wouldn’t give up until he felt he had no choice," Stuart said. "But to do it to protect his family. He loved us so much that he wanted to protect us from the mistake he made."
Stuart said it all unfolded in a single night, so quick that even the parental controls they have on all of the family's devices didn't help.
"I can honestly sit in my bed and cry for hours," Stuart said. "But I have another child that I have to be there for."
Last was a senior at Sobrato High School and had plans to attend Washington State University.
"He was so excited to go," Stuart said. "We were going to go visit and tour the campus."
Police are still investigating Last's death. They say this sort of blackmail trap is becoming more common. The victims are often teens who may not fully understand the risks that come with sending risqué photos.
"Twenty, 30 years ago, predators would go to a playground or a park to find young victims," San Jose police Sgt. Christian Camarillo said. "Now, there’s an entire virtual world out there for them to get into and pick their victims that way."
As Stuart mourns, she hopes other families can learn from her devastating loss.
"Let your children know that no matter what, a mistake is a mistake and they can get past that," she said. "But also, if someone reaches out, don’t trust that they are who they say they are."
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.