BILLINGS- Billings area law enforcement and even school leaders, were caught by surprise this week after a social media cyber bully targeted a Lockwood teen.
The Momo Challenge targets young social media users and encourages dangerous and violent tasks to be done. The goal is to meet Momo, but if the tasks aren’t accomplished, threats are made to the victim.
Sgt. Robert Lester with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office said until Monday evening when deputies started to investigate a report from a Lockwood family about the threat, the agency had never heard of the Momo Challenge.
The Momo Challenge has reportedly claimed the lives of several children around the world over the past year by encouraging the child to commit suicide.
“This has brought us all to the table today to talk about what to do to protect our kids,” said Lester.
He is asking parents to have a conversation with their kids immediately, to see if Momo has been a topic of interest in their lives.
“They are your kids, you need to be in their business, you need to be looking in their phones,” said Lester.
Just Monday, a 12-year-old boy living in Lockwood notified his grandparents about a message on the social media platform What’s App about a recent message from Momo.
Lester said the teen went to his grandparents as soon as the app started to name the child’s friends specifically with threats.
“The child was told his friends would be killed if he didn’t do the tasks,” said Lester.
However it’s not like children are necessarily seeking out contact with Momo according to Lester, he said in this particular case, Momo contacted the Lockwood child first.
Momo is said to push the child to the edge of what’s appropriate, something that is alarming to Lester.
“And you have to complete challenges, so texts or voice messages, giving you challenges and the challenges get progressively more dangerous to the point of even suicide at the end,” he said.
The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office shared the image of Momo on their Facebook page Monday and quickly a community conversation was brewing over the issue.
Lester said that is the goal.
“That’s what it boils down to,” he said. “I want the public to know and I want all the kids to know and ultimately my job now is to sit behind this desk patrolling.”
Lester said parents should notify law enforcement if Momo appears on their child’s phone or social media apps, although he said tracking where the cyberbully is coming from is hard.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News