COLUMBUS, Ohio — Something was not adding up the morning Jennifer Markus' 15-year-old son died. Why would a happy and typical teenage boy take his own life?
After an exhausting 11 months, the family got their answers. Braden had been the target of a sextortion scam and 27 minutes after the online transaction began, the teen took his own life.
Sextortion is a form of online blackmail using nude images. The victims are often threatened that their sexually explicit images will be publicly shared unless they pay to avoid it.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, 2021, Braden was having an "amazing football weekend," his mom said in a Facebook post. As always, he celebrated by ordering his favorite food, GENJIGO. Braden then spent the rest of the night doing homework, playing Xbox with his cousins and sleeping — the typical life of a teenager, his mom explained.
The next day Braden woke up smiling as usual. He started working on his driver's ed test and on getting more school work done.
11:01 a.m. is when the nightmare began.
Braden was friended by someone on Instagram posing as a high school girl. His mom said they messaged back and forth for about five minutes. The conversation then moved to the Google Hangout app, as requested by the catfisher.
The online predator sent pictures that Braden believed to be of the teenage girl with whom he was messaging. For the next five minutes, the person on the other end of the conversation repeatedly asked for pictures of Braden.
Braden's mom said he eventually caved and sent a picture of himself.
After that, his mother said the predator made a video using Braden's images and threatened to release it unless he paid $1,800.
For the next few minutes, Braden begged the online predator to stop. "Why are you doing this to me? I am only 15, you will ruin my life," Braden's messages read.
11:28 a.m., it was all over.
Braden's mother said she wished she never read the thread between her son and the online scammer, but she's now sharing his story as a warning to other parents.
"Make sure you talk to your kids about online cyber crimes! Make sure you tell them over and over that when they make a mistake to come to you, nothing is worth their lives," Jennifer wrote.
A CrimeTracker 10 special report shares some ways parents can talk with their kids about this growing crime. And why it is so important to hit pause before you say yes, to a new friend request.
Visit the Braden Markus Memorial Page and to stay up to date on how his family and friends continue to honor his memory.
Preventing catfishing and sextortion scams
Authorities say there are four steps parents should take to hopefully prevent a catfisher from infiltrating their lives:
- Have a conversation with your kids. Communicate with them about the dangers of online crimes.
- Get their passwords. It is not an invasion of privacy when it comes to your child’s safety.
- Understand the apps. Many icons might be cover-ups for private chat rooms.
- Go through your child’s friends list. Ask about each person so you are more familiar.
- Read the FBI warning related to sextortion.
- Sextortion warning signs from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Mental health resources
If you or someone you know is in a crisis or having thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. The lifeline can also be reached at its former number 1-800-273-8255 or online at 988lifeline.org. You can also text HELLO to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. A comprehensive list of suicide prevention resources can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) website.
Olentangy Local School District statement provided to 10TV:
“The Olentangy High School and greater Olentangy community were deeply saddened by the passing of Braden Markus last year. We are hopeful that this story, along with the work of law enforcement, will educate parents and students regarding online safety precautions and prevent children from being the targets of online predators.”