An upstate New York teen died by suicide last week after he was allegedly blackmailed with “personal” images on social media, according to his family.
Riley Basford, 15, took his own life on March 30 in Postdam, New York after being “bombarded” with online threats, the Watertown Daily Times reported. Shortly before the teen's death, an unidentified social media user threatened to leak sensitive snapshots of Basford if he didn’t pay $3,500.
The suspected scammer, who allegedly posed as Basford’s girlfriend online, later warned the teenager's “personal” pictures would be published on social media and shared with family and friends if he didn't complete the transaction.
“I start crying when I think of the four minutes of sheer panic and pain my baby felt to make that decision and that someone out in the world doesn’t even care that they did that to him,” Riley’s mother, Mary Rodee, told the Watertown Daily Times. “It’s so sick and I want everyone to know.”
Basford hadn’t appeared distressed on the morning of his death, according to his family. He went to the dentist, had braces put on, fed his family’s cows, and spent time with relatives. The threatening messages began around noon on March 30, his family said. Hours later, Basford died.
“This came down to really a split second of madness in a young brain that couldn’t process the finality of the decision that he was making,” hos mother told WWNY-TV. “I want to figure out how this devil was able to prey on my child in such a short time.”
Basford’s parents said their son went into an abrupt tailspin after seeing the sinister messages.
“He couldn’t reason out what was happening to him and it was happening so fast,” Rodee told the Watertown Daily Times. “They put him into such a panic that he went out of his mind.”
“They continued to bombard him and bombard him, and finally they broke him,” Riley’s father, Darren Basford, added. “He thought this was the only way out because he didn’t want to be embarrassed.”
The family cautioned other parents to closely monitor their children’s social media accounts.
“I want to get the message out to parents that there is no safe social media,”
“You need to talk to your kids about all social media, know who they’re talking to and have the kids know who they’re talking to.”
New York State Police confirmed they're investigating a number of other incidents in which teen victims were targeted online in similar catfishing schemes.
"The suspect(s) locate teen victims on social media, friending or following the teens, then gaining their trust," Major Reuben A. Oliver said in a statement. "When trust is established, investigators say the suspects ask for photos and/or videos of the teen, usually provocative in nature. Once the videos are secured by these predators, they demand payment, sometimes thousands of dollars, or they threaten to release the images on social media."
It's unclear if any of these other cases are connected to Basford's death. "At this point, we can't confirm they are linked," New York State Trooper Jennifer V. Fleishman said. "It is very early in the investigation. These types of investigations take time. This type of cyber deception has been going on for years. They come to the forefront when someone dies as a result. One suicide is too many."
The cause and manner of Basford’s death hasn’t been released by officials. It’s unclear if a preliminary autopsy report has been completed. Authorities declined to disclose additional information on Basford’s death on Wednesday, citing the ongoing investigation.
Basford was an aspiring environmental conservationist who adored snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, camping, and playing football, his family said. The young outdoorsman, whose hobbies also included collecting and boiling sap, had an “infectious smile,” according to a GoFundMe page organized by loved ones. On Monday, Basford’s family held a balloon release memorial in his memory.
“The governor will hear my son’s name out of my mouth,” Rodee said. “The president will hear my son’s name out of my mouth. I will not go to my grave without honoring Riley every day of my life because he did not want to die.”
“My son lived a wonderful life in this town,” Rodee also told WWNY-TV. “Full of so much love and support.”
The online fundraiser has helped raise nearly $40,000 for Basford’s family in the wake of his sudden death. The family plans to set up a scholarship fund in his memory, WWNY-TV reported.
Riley had an infectious smile. He loved to hunt deer, ducks, and geese with his stepbrothers and good friends Tanner & Ryan. He enjoyed fishing and playing lacrosse and football. He participated in the JR Carp tournaments for a few years and he looked forward to it every summer, especially Duffer’s cooking and camping with his buddy Devin.
-From Riley's Family
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.