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Missing teen found safe after being lured by gaming app predator

After five days of flooding social media and television news outlets, missing Olive Branch teen Aubrey Peal has been located and is safe.

It is believed that Peal left his home in the late hours of July 31, sneaking out an upstairs window while his parents and sister were asleep. The reason Peal ran away, investigators confirmed, can be traced back to chatroom app Discord.

According to the app’s website, it’s a voice and text chat for gamers. He showed the app to his sister before he disappeared, according to his father, John Aubrey Peal II. What’s shocking, his father said, is the teen didn’t show any signs he intended to run away from home, or any signs something was wrong.

“My son is 14 years old, no mental illness, no medications, nothing about him that says there’s anything wrong with him,” Peal said. “All the numbers that he has saved on his phone are people we know. But a couple months ago, we heard him upstairs talking on his phone to somebody while he was playing a video game. Come to find out, he had downloaded an app to do that.”

Peal explained that he and his wife are protective about what their children are exposed to in terms of entertainment and cell phones, regularly checking internet history and apps their son had on his phone. He described Aubrey as book smart and street smart, and said he and his wife, Alicia, don’t hide things from their kids.

Peal also said Aubrey is not the type of person to just run away from home, because his favorite thing to do is stay in and play video games – typically Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed on Playstation. He was so excited his son was trying to make friends, he said, that he never imagined he’d be lured away from home.

“He ended up talking to somebody, and I was happy about it. If I had known how he was talking to them, I would’ve looked it up and I would know a lot more,” he said. “He is such a good kid, you can’t get mad at him. We never had a problem and have always had a good relationship.”

Discord is a free VoIP (voice-over-IP) application designed primarily for gamers, and shares much of the functionality of Skype. As of December 2017, it has over 87 million users, according to its website.

Cyberbullying.org reports that for the most part, Discord is a safe app to use as long as it is used only with people whom one knows and generally trusts. Joining only private servers and chats involving friends will not lead to anything that wouldn’t be seen or discussed in real life with those same people. However, joining more public forums on the platform can lead to questionable, offensive and perhaps graphic content – similar to browsing the seedier corners of the internet (or certain neighborhoods in the closest metropolis).

“The only thing I do know from everything I’ve heard is that there are a lot of predators on the site,” Peal said. “I am 100 percent certain someone lured him out. There’s even evidence he got into a car.”

That evidence comes courtesy of private investigator Tina Storz with Halos Investigations, as well as Search Dogs South and the Olive Branch Police Department. Bella, a K-9 bloodhound, is the one Storz said followed Aubrey’s trail and determined he left DeSoto County.

“We shared posters and social media posts in all 50 states,” Storz said. “But Bella was the one who figured out he walked out of his subdivision, got in a car and rode off. She followed the trail to an intersection in Olive Branch this morning (Sunday) and that’s how we determined he left town.”

Now that Aubrey has been found safe, Storz confirmed Bella has been rewarded with lots of treats for her part in the investigation.

According to his father, Aubrey turned himself in at a fire station in Illinois on Sunday afternoon “due to media.” At press time, Peal was driving to Illinois to retrieve his son, and said police confirmed Discord was where he met the person who lured him from home.

Because the investigation is still ongoing, it is unclear at the time who Aubrey ran away with, or why he chose to run away. However, Peal said he is relieved his son is alive and that he knows where he is. Storz echoed those sentiments, saying her job doesn’t end after Halos locates a child.

“I want Aubrey to know, just because I helped find you, doesn’t mean I’m going to just disappear now,” Storz said. “As with other children I’ve helped locate, I want to meet him, and talk to him about some of these dangers associated with social media and internet chat rooms.”