July 22 10:48 AM

Almont teen shares story of online predator


May 08, 2019
ALMONT — After three harrowing days under the control of an online predator, 14-year-old Laura Oliver is safe at home with her parents in Berlin Township.

The Almont Middle School student was reported missing Saturday, April 27 by her grandmother, a resident of Kimball Township in St. Clair County.

Laura's disappearance triggered a multi-jurisdictional search and investigation that ultimately led to the arrest of a 21-year-old Detroit man on April 30.

On Monday, May 6, a full week after her ordeal ended, Laura returned to Almont Middle School to deliver a hand-written message to her relieved teachers, school staff and classmates.

Laura Oliver, 14, discusses dangers of online 'relationships' with classmates on Monday.
With her parents, Naomi and Josh Oliver in the audience, Laura explained that she could not discuss certain aspects of the case because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

She did, however, discuss her state of mind and some of the circumstances that resulted in her sneaking off in the night with a young man she knew only through conversations on social media.

The following excerpts were taken directly from Laura's hand-written message.

"Today I will share the things that I can say," Laura began.

"I have struggled with depression for a few years now, and for the last few months I was in a really bad place in my mind.

"Depression makes you think and do a lot of bad stuff," she continued. "Lately I've been feeling like I don't matter or that no one cares about me.

"So I started secretly talking to a guy I met online. He seemed really sweet and caring and made me feel like he understood me and that we had a lot in common.

"The things he said made me feel better about myself, and he told me that he would take care of me. He made me feel special.

"He knew I was depressed and said he would help me through it," Laura continued. "From what he said and how I was feeling, I felt like he was the only one who really cared about me."

Laura explained that she had just experienced a "really bad week" and that the Friday she ran off with the adult male had been a "terrible" day.

"This guy I had been talking to online had been asking me to run away and to go to him," Laura recalled. "I did a really stupid thing. I listened to him and snuck out of my grandma's house."

Though the two seemed to get along fine at first, the man soon began to reveal his true nature.

"He was not the sweet and caring guy that he pretended to be," said Laura. "He was mean, cruel and hurtful.

"He watched everything I did very carefully and made threats about things he would do to me or my family if I gave anyone hints about where I was or who I was with.

"If he was on the phone, he would threaten me to remain silent or else something bad would happen to me," she continued. "For three days he never left my side and I didn't have anything to eat or drink. He called me things that no one should have to hear.

"I don't know what his long-term plans were for me, but I am very happy to say that I never had to find out."

Fortunately, Laura had an opportunity to escape when the suspect's sister texted him, saying that the police were probably hot on his trail.

"He panicked," said Laura. "He gave me his tablet to take with me because he could track my location. He told me to leave and come back later."

Instead, Laura used the opportunity to run away and seek help.

"I got to a place where the tablet had wi-fi and contacted my mom and a few friends," said Laura. "My mom told me to go to the nearest store, where I called her and 911, and that is when they were able to pick me up and get me back to my family.

"I regret ever talking with someone that I didn't know through social media," she said. "We want to think that we couldn't have something like this happen to us," she continued. "That it is something that happens to other people or in the movies.

"But it is very real and very scary," Laura warned. "I and my family cannot say enough to thank all of the authorities that helped, like the (St. Clair County) Sheriff's office, police departments, Homeland Security, school staff, all of the teachers and all of the students that helped.

"Every day I regret getting into that car with that guy, and I will for the rest of my life," Laura said.

Kim VonHiltmayer, Almont Middle School principal, acknowledged Laura for her courage in speaking publically about her ordeal with her classmates.

"Today is Laura's first day back to school after going through this experience," said VonHiltmayer. "We are so proud of her for facing her peers and sharing her story.

"It's an important lesson for other young people to learn so they can avoid a similar situation.

"I'm also proud of all of the students who stepped up to help ensure Laura's safe return home," VonHiltmayer added. "And to our outstanding staff who played important roles in bringing Laura back home."

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
  1. reply print email
    May 09, 2019 | 05:28 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story.I think we often feel it would not happen to some one we know.I am sorry she felt she had no choice that day.

    Judie Reynolds
  2. reply print email
    Almont Teen
    May 10, 2019 | 10:05 AM

    Laura is so brave to share her story. Hopefully she knows that she has probably saved someone else's life by doing so. May God bless her and bring her peace.

    Angela Villalpando
    Imlay City
  3. reply print email
    May 10, 2019 | 04:33 PM

    So very glad she survived...It's not just young people that need to be very careful. I have a friend that almost did the same thing!!!p

    Theresa Drexler
  4. reply print email
    May 12, 2019 | 11:05 PM

    Your bravery to share your experience will help others!
    So thankful your are safe!

    Margie Agnelli
    Estero , FL
  5. reply print email
    Thankful you are healing
    May 17, 2019 | 02:46 PM

    You were very smart, and I'm very thankful, you got away. I'm thankful, to share, your story, to help other people. Best wishes for your future. Praying for you.

    Royal Oak
  6. reply print email
    Online Predators
    May 20, 2019 | 12:03 PM

    So Thankful Laura returns home safe! How brave she is to speak out and use this situation as a teaching tool. I pray justice will be served as well for the predator. Laura I hope you understand all the terrible things that man said to you are untrue. You are beautiful, courageous,with so much love and support. Depression sucks forsure and I can relate having it since my youth years as well. You can find a healthy to deal with it and find peace and happiness. Don't beat yourself up the rest of your life over regrets. Move forward, don't look back, don't let it define you. You are so worthy!!

    Bruce Twp
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