As police search for a missing 12-year-old from Brookfield, they are focusing on her internet communications as potentially critical evidence that could help find her.
Specially trained investigators are already analyzing computers that they suspect Brooke Bennett may have used in recent months for online chatting that could have been with her pals-- or with a predator.
"Well here is a hard drive taken out of its casing," computer investigator Mike Touchette says, demonstrating. "This is what the police are looking at."
Touchette is one of a dozen specially trained Vermont law enforcement officers who analyze computer hard drives. The hard drive is a computer's filing cabinet, storing the addresses of every computer it has communicated with. Brooke Bennett has been talking with a lot of other people, apparently through the social networking website called MySpace.
"What they're hoping to find is info that would lead to... give us information about any unusual associations she's had with people, that will help them lead to finding her," explains Touchette.
Touchette says in a best case scenario, the police detectives could find her contacts in just a few hours, but that is unlikely.
"In a case like this you're probably talking several weeks for a true, full forensic analysis," Touchette estimates. "The volume of data that were dealing with is just huge. So what we do is we try and pinpoint specifics that are truly important to the case."
The Federal Bureau of Investigations has assigned half a dozen computer experts to work with a similar number of Vermont detectives, and what they are looking for are the leads that could identify possible predators.
"Internet history, social networking sites she has been looking at, or blogging at, or using with some regularity," explains Touchette.
Touchette says some internet predators have become so good at hiding their identities that it could take months to track them down. In fact, he is working on an international case that has already taken nearly two years. But in this case, he is optimistic and he thinks that the police probably have all the best possible resources, especially now with the FBI task force involved.
As for MySpace, they have to cooperate. The feds will get a subpoena if necessary.
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