Darius Matylewich, 27, is being charged with kidnapping and endangering the welfare of a child after he allegedly groomed and lured an 11-year-old girl from Wayne, New Jersey, and convinced her to leave her home, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes announced on Thursday.
According to prosecutors, the 11-year-old was reported missing on the morning of Sept. 10 and was found the same day over 130 miles away from her hometown in Bear, DE.
Matylewich was taken into custody by local police and extradited him to New Jersey, where he is currently held.
Investigators said Matylewich had met the 11-year-old playing online video games on various gaming platforms, including Roblox, and took her from her home without her parents’ knowledge or consent.
If convicted, Matylewich faces a maximum of 30 years in state prison, prosecutors said.
A spokesperson for Roblox told Huff Post that Matylewich and the 11-year-old did not meet on their platform.
“Based on our internal investigation, the suspect and the victim did not meet on Roblox,” the spokesperson said. “We have not been contacted by law enforcement but we take the safety of our users, particularly our youngest users, incredibly seriously. We have reached out to law enforcement and are offering our help.”
The spokesperson told HuffPost that the company has a zero tolerance policy regarding “sexual content of any kind.”
The platform offers blocking features on their chat, as well as parental controls to limit or turn off the chat feature.
“Users can also mute or block players that they come across in games and report inappropriate content or behavior using our Report Abuse system,” the spokesperson said.
Jennifer Fetterman, chief assistant prosecutor with the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, confirmed to Huff Post that Matylewich and the 11-year-old girl had “communicated on several online gaming forums, including Roblox.”
After the news of the kidnapping spread, parents in Wayne are urging others to make a preemptive strike when it comes to safety precautions around allowing kids to access chat rooms through online gaming systems.
One concerned Wayne, DE parent told NBC6 that her daughter plays Robolox all the time.
“They're addicted. Normally, I try to make sure that the chat are off and normally I try to be on top of it and controlling, but just to make sure of it, I'm aware of what's going on,” she said.
Roblox has become one of the most popular gaming platforms in the country. In 2020, the company told the Verge that over 50% of kids and teens under 16 in the U.S. had spent time playing games on the platform.
In March 2020, Roblox saw a 40% increase in users (surely a spike due to shelter-in-place orders at the time); in April, Roblox Corporation told Bloomberg that, “two-thirds of all U.S. kids between 9 and 12 years old use Roblox, and it’s played by a third of all Americans under the age of 16.”
As of April 2021, Roblox hit a milestone of 202 million monthly active users — an increase from 146 million in April 2020.
Internet Safety 101 recommends parents set firm boundaries with their kids who enjoy online gaming.
“To help protect your children at home, talk to them about the dangers of online gaming, be ready to listen if they seem upset about something that happened while they were on the computer, and encourage them to use wisdom when deciding what types of online games to play,” the site recommends.
The site also encourages parents to gain a working knowledge of gaming platforms and apps that kids are playing on to help keep kid’s gaming experiences safe, age-appropriate, and fun. Always check out the safety features and parental controls offered by all the major gaming consoles including Xbox, Wii, and PlayStation.