BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Barrington police are looking for electronic evidence to track down a man who allegedly performed a sex act on himself during a Parent Teacher Organization meeting.
COVID-19 has made virtual meetings a necessary reality during the crisis, and the Barrington incident fits in with hundreds of cases the FBI has been tracking during the last few months, according to a recent news release.
In Barrington, a person who identified themselves as Robin sent a direct Zoom message to a woman during a Hampden Meadows PTO meeting last Wednesday. The woman who received the direct message assumed Robin was likewise part of the meeting, and started to correspond.
“After corresponding with ‘Robin’ for several strange minutes ‘Robin’ asked [her] if she could [perform a sex act on herself],” according to the report.
Within seconds, a blacked-out screen in the Zoom mosaic showed “an unknown white male [performing a sex act on himself] visible to the entire Zoom meeting,” according to the report.
If arrested, police said the suspect could face a felony count of intentional access, alteration, damage or destruction.
Barrington police have not yet responded to a request for comment.
Hampden Meadows principal Tracey McGee told investigators since she “set the meeting as public, participants did not need a code or password” to join, according to the police report.
McGee did not take any “screen shots” that could help identify the suspect, but she said she would contact the district’s information technology department “to see if anything further can be done to obtain evidence,” according to the report.
McGee referred Target 12 to Superintendent Michael Messore, who said in an email that the incident prompted the district to review its Zoom procedures.
“Our Director of Technology has investigated our settings and procedures and informed us that the [PTO] meeting was set up properly,” Messore said. “We have implemented several precautions to mitigate possible security issues.”
Messore said the district is using “the Waiting Room feature” so that people cannot join a meeting without notice and utilizing password options.
“PTO and other larger meetings offer a bigger challenge since the information to enter the meeting needs to be shared with a greater number of people,” Messore said.
The FBI last week warned Zoom meeting participants about child pornography “being displayed” during virtual gatherings.
“During the last few months, the FBI has received more than 195 reports of incidents throughout the United States and in other countries,” according to a news release.
A warning about “online classroom hijacking” during the COVID-19 crisis sent out in March by the agency cited a pair of Massachusetts incidents.
One involved an unidentified individual who “yelled a profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of instruction.”
Someone “displayed swastika tattoos” to a virtual classroom in the second incident. The FBI did not release the location of either of those cases.
Kristen Setera, a spokesperson for the Boston FBI office, would not comment directly on any investigations.
“While the FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations, we want to assure the public the FBI remains committed to ensuring national security and pursuing violations of federal law,” Setera said.
The agency offered a number of suggestions to prevent unwanted virtual meeting interruptions, including only providing links to specific people, managing screen-sharing options on the platform, using passwords, and reporting incidents to the FBI.
A Zoom spokesperson told Eyewitness News the platform has several protective features to stop hackers, and encouraged users to report all questionable incidents.
This story was updated with the response from Barrington’s superintendent.