Originally created 04/02/00

Internet worries parents



Mary Ellen Price isn't willing to accept the good with the bad. She's had a computer in her Martinez home for more than a year, but she refuses to have it connected to the Internet.

She's got two boys in her care, one age 14 and the other 6. Though there may be some benefit to having Internet access, there's also a world of temptation out there -- evil people in chat rooms, pornography and sites for making weapons of destruction.

Mrs. Price won't have it.

"I buy games like Jump Start and the things that they can use to learn, but there's too much that they can have access to on the Internet," she said. "You can learn anything on there. My 14-year-old has told me. He has begged me to get it, but we are just not going to do it with the children in the house."

As a parent, grandparent and day-care operator, Mrs. Price said the case against the three boys suspected of plotting to kill their parents has caused her great concern, and she wonders just what kind of influence the Internet had on John Hoehle, 11, and brothers Aaron Lytle, 11, and Nathan Lytle, 13.

"These children supposedly went on the Internet to learn how to make the poisons, the herbs, how to fix them for their parents," Mrs. Price said. "They wouldn't have thought of that by themselves."

At a Thursday juvenile detention hearing, John, Aaron and Nathan were ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation and were sent to the Augusta Regional Youth Development Center. They have been charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit a crime, possession of a firearm by a person under 18 and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

The boys were arrested Monday after authorities discovered their plot.

During a search, authorities found knives, ammunition for several different types of guns, detailed drawings and plans, Sheriff Clay Whittle said.

The case comes almost one year after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who had a Web site that promoted hatred, were involved in a massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., that left 15 people dead.

It's something law enforcement officials are having to adapt to. Columbia County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said his department and others in Georgia have recently started using a monitor to police Internet chat sites.

"The Internet is a relatively new, exciting, yet potentially dangerous information medium," he said. "And we anticipate experiencing troubles in the future and probably in ways that we haven't even thought of yet.

"Much work needs to be done at the federal level to curtail, if not eliminate, inappropriate and harmful information from the Internet. However, parents must take action now."

As early as third grade, area schools teach children how to use the Internet for research. The key, school officials say, is controlling access. Columbia County schools have safeguards in place to screen Web sites.

"Anything that even looks remotely like it may go in the wrong direction in a search is stopped," North Columbia Elementary Principal Linda Moehlman said. "So it's kind of already in the system, but besides that, our students do have supervision."

Authorities have not said where the three Martinez boys downloaded their information. In a search Wednesday of the home of John Hoehle, among the items confiscated were computer disks and a computer.

Lakeside Middle School Principal Bill Morris said his school, which the boys attended, has measures in place to prevent inappropriate sites from being searched.

"I think it's as safe as it can be," Mr. Morris said.

Columbia County schools get permission slips from parents before students are allowed to use the Internet at school. Only a small number of parents prohibit their children from using the Internet at school, administrators said.

Assistant Superintendent Charles Browning said the school system has different levels of security for computers and Internet access.

Individual school computers, he said, are not recognized by the Internet, which prevents outside users from gaining access to school computers. And to reach the Internet, schools use main servers located at the central office. On top of that, the system has filtering software that is updated daily to prevent access to inappropriate sites.

But there are students who can find a way to bypass the best of safeguards, administrators said.

"Can they do it? Yes," said Harlem High School Principal Barry Hemphill. "Some of them are very good -- better than we are. They are very sophisticated."

Staff Writer Preston Sparks contributed to this article.

Reach Melissa Hall and Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222.