Lorin LaFave shares painful lessons in talk at city college
The mother of a teenager who was murdered after being groomed on the internet has shared her harrowing story with schoolchildren in Belfast.
Breck Bednar (14), from Surrey, was lured to the Essex flat of Lewis Daynes, then aged 18, in 2014 and stabbed to death.
The predator targeted his victim and other young boys through an online video game.
Lorin LaFave has since launched a foundation in her son's name to encourage greater online safety.
She spoke to pupils and parents at Victoria College in Belfast yesterday.
Ms LaFave told this newspaper that online grooming was a highly complex problem, with her son and even the police refusing to listen to her warnings in the past.
Computer engineer Daynes built up trust over months with the boys he targeted by sending free software and video games.
Described by prosecutors as "a controlling and manipulative individual", he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murdering Breck.
When Ms LaFave first realised the online relationship was unhealthy, she banned her son from speaking to Daynes, but the grooming continued in secret after he was sent a mobile phone.
The police brushed off the warnings and failed to check records of a number of allegations suggesting Daynes was a danger to young boys.
Even teachers and parents of her son's friends were reluctant to take action, seeing Breck as a normal and well-adjusted teenager.
All the while, Daynes sought to isolate his victim from his family.
Ms LaFave recalled that on one occasion Daynes managed to record audio of her telling her son to get off the computer in order to portray her as the enemy.
"There isn't one answer," she said.
"We're trying to protect young people as a group. It affects the entire community, so people need to take part."
She said she felt reliving the painful loss of her son was the right thing to do as sharing a real-life story with young people often had a greater impact than just imposing rules.
"I think the obvious way for pupils to feel is that 'it won't happen to me' - Breck had that himself," she explained.
Asked how pupils at Victoria College reacted, she replied: "Today I felt there was a lot of faces looking at me thinking, 'Wow, she's had some weird things happen to her over the years'. But some may have had an interaction online which they are only now starting to question.
"They are online living the same life that was Breck was, so we need them to recognise the signs of grooming and exploitation."
Ms LaFave said that learning these skills from a young age could also help young people with future relationships.
"The education needs to be continuous, even when you look at adults and the problems of domestic abuse and coercive control," she said.
"Daynes was showing coercive control over Breck and that's a highly dangerous thing for family life.
"We try to inspire young people to be the best they can be by looking after each other and by being a proactive person in the community."
When first contacting the parents of Breck's friends, she claimed many became defensive and shut down any communication.
"They didn't want the stigma of the community knowing their business," she said.
"When they actually found their son back online with this predator after we had forbidden them collectively as a group from talking to him, they kicked their own son back off, but they didn't tell me that he (Daynes) was still in the picture.
"So why did they not tell me? We were friends.
"They said they were 'not that kind of parent'.
"They were protecting their own son, but they didn't care about their own son's friends in the same way.
"It's a lesson that, yes, we have to mind our own business, but a helpful message or call if we see something could save someone's life.
"I would hope people would tell me.
"I would want to know if my child was doing something dangerous."
While she said she felt ignored by police at first, four police forces have now collaborated to produce a short film for YouTube called Breck's Last Game. The powerful film includes chilling audio of when the killer called 999 to confess his crime.
"I think we need to educate and empower everyone, from the youngest child to the oldest and the most experienced headteacher and police person," Ms LaFave said.
"There's always new ways and technologies of how to get to children and it's really important we work together."
Further information on Breck's story and online safety advice can be found by visiting www.breck foundation.org