Gaps in federal and state legislation allowed a Plumstead man serving probation to secretly online stalk a Bucks County teenager for three years. And legislation introduced last week by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick aims to plug some of those holes.
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed on Thursday the Combat Online Predators Act, introduced by Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, the day before. The bill has been sent to the House floor but has not been scheduled for a vote.
If passed by the House and Senate, the bill would increase the maximum criminal penalty for cyberstalkers of minors by up to five years. The legislation also directs the Attorney General and Department of Justice to evaluate federal, state and local efforts to enforce anti-stalking laws and practices.
“We must do everything we can to forcefully respond to egregious instances of stalking and cyberstalking, especially when committed against minors — the most vulnerable among us,” said Fitzpatrick in a statement. “The Combat Online Predators Act ensures that, not only are we increasing penalties for these crimes, but also requiring federal law enforcement officials to constantly evaluate and update practices to combat this digital harassment.”
Fitzpatrick says the legislation was inspired by a cyberstalking incident experienced by a family in Central Bucks County. According to a statement from the family, whose name is being withheld by this news organization, their 12-year-old daughter was harassed online in 2013 by Shane Holderer, 56, of Pipersville. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of stalking and received five years of probation.
The court orders, however, did not stop Holderer from engaging in an online and social media campaign that continued stalking the girl for the next three years.
“The man who victimized our daughter began his quest in 2012 and was 37 years older than her,” said the family’s joint statement. “He created a three-year plan to be with her, marry her and bear his children, posting daily about his intentions, and made no secret that he was coming to her on her 18th birthday, all while under probation for stalking her at the age of 13.”
According to the statement, Holderer opened several anonymous social media accounts and used the accounts of their daughter’s friends to search for anything related to her. He posted more than 15,000 times about her and that no one would stop him from being with her. The family discovered the posts in September 2016 and reported them to the Buckingham Police Department, which took control of her social media. In November 2016, Holderer was lured to a nearby coffee shop and arrested as part of a sting.
After pleading guilty to third-degree felony stalking, Holderer received a harsher sentence of 18 months to seven years in state prison. He will serve another 18 months to seven years for violating his original probation.
“Thankfully, we dodged a physical assault on our child, but may never heal from the emotional abuse that this cyberstalker caused,” the family said. “With this act and the call on our Attorney General and Department of Justice, our family and friends also challenge our state representatives to dive deeply into these laws, identify these holes and plug them before our children are put to greater risk. ”