‘A parent’s worst nightmare’: Southwest Virginia man sentenced to 27 years for coercing minors on Snapchat

A Southwest Virginia man has been sentenced to 27 years for using Snapchat to coerce underage girls into sending him sexually explicit photos, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hunter Royal, 23, of Marion was sentenced on Tuesday to 324 months in federal prison and pleaded guilty to one count of persuading, inducing, enticing and coercing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct.

Officials said that Royal used several different Snapchat accounts and pose as a young girl to contact other underage girls, some as young as 12-years-old. He would initiate contact and gain his victims’ trust, sometimes by sending them photos of young girls he was claiming to be.

He would then reportedly steer the conversation to sexual issues and convince his victims to take and send sexually explicit photos of themselves. Officials said he would then blackmail and use other coercive tactics to get more sexual photos from his victims.

Royal distributed some of the images he received to other people, according to court records.

After he was first arrested, authorities said Royal contacted a family member and asked them to buy a burner phone, log in to his accounts and delete the contents of his Snapchat accounts. But ultimately, authorities said his plan failed.

Below is part of a statement from Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Bubar:

“Royal exploited these minor victims, meeting them online, and is a parent’s worst nightmare. This lengthy sentence ought to send a clear message to would-be online predators: your behavior will not be tolerated, and you will be brought to justice. These cases are some of the most important that we do, and I am grateful for the hard work of Homeland Security and our other federal and local law enforcement partners, who will continue to work tirelessly to vindicate the interests of vulnerable victims and protect them from harm.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Bubar