A romance that started on Xbox has ended in four Iowa teens running away from their homes, their parents and police say. Two teenage girls from Shellsburg and two teenage boys from Atlantic went missing Saturday in what police said may have been a plotted escape.
Crystal Sunderman, the mother of missing 16-year-old Corey Sunderman, said she believes her son met his girlfriend Jazlyn Visek, 15, through Xbox’s online gaming system and planned to run away with her and two other teens.
“I don’t let him have a Facebook account because I don’t want him meeting people online,” Crystal Sunderman said. “I didn’t realize they could do so much on Xbox.” Corey Sunderman and Austin Boggs, 13, disappeared early Saturday morning after a run-in with police the night before. Later that same day, Visek and Skie Floyd, 15, also disappeared.
Late Friday night, the boys snuck out of Corey’s home to go skateboarding and were caught by the cops for violating curfew. After police brought the boys back to the Sundermans’ home, Crystal Sunderman tried to make sure the teens wouldn’t run out again.
“This is going to sound really stupid, but I took all the shoes downstairs and put them in a bag and took them up to my room, thinking if I had the boys’ shoes, they couldn’t go out and go skateboarding again,” she said. The boys found alternate boots in the garage and went a step further – they ran away, she said.
When Corey’s father Tony woke for work the next morning, he realized not only were the boys missing, but so were Crystal Sunderman’s laptop and $400 from Tony Sunderman’s newly-cashed check.
Also missing was a 1997 gold Jeep Cherokee Tony Sunderman had brought home from his iron and metal recycling job. The license-less vehicle was spotted nearly four hours away in Benton County at around 10 a.m. Saturday, the same county the missing Iowa girls call home.
Sheriff Randall Forsyth of Benton County said two boys driving a gold Jeep were spotted at a local shop Saturday morning, where they stopped to make a phone call. A man at the store let them, but only on the condition that they used a speakerphone.
“The conversation was something to the effect of, ‘Don’t pick us up at our house. Pick us up at the Quick Stop,'” Forsyth said. At around 11:30 a.m., the missing Iowa girls told one of their mothers they were going to walk around a cemetery. At 3 p.m., they again spoke with one of their parents and said they were headed home.
The Jeep was spotted in Shellsburg shortly after dinner a block away from the Quick Stop, Forsyth said. Parents and police have not heard from the four teens since. This is not Corey Sunderman’s first disappearance from home. He’s left twice before, though he always returned and has never had any legal trouble, his mother said.
His most recent run this past summer, Crystal Sunderman said, also involved a girl he met on Xbox. “He’s got contacts in Pennsylvania, in Washington, in all these places,” Crystal Sunderland said. “I mean, it’s just like are you kidding me?” However, since the teens’ disappearance, they’ve had no communication police could trace.
Police and parents are speaking with students at each of the missing teens’ schools. From those conversations, they’ve gleaned potential leads to the kids’ whereabouts, which may include a Florida skateboarding park. Wherever the teens have headed, it does not appear they brought a lot.
“One of the things that’s a little out of the ordinary for a normal runaway is Skie did not take anything with her other than her cell phone,” Forsyth said, leading police to believe the girls did not expect to be gone for long. “It’s been long enough, and nobody’s heard from these kids,” Forsyth said. “We’re not sure what the situation is.”
Crystal Sunderman said she is grateful for extensive help from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, but said she still fears the possibility of never seeing her son again.
“The most important thing of all is that wherever our kids are, whatever they’re doing, if any one of them decides they’ve had enough, that this isn’t as exciting as they thought, that they want to come home, as their parents we will do anything to get them home,” she said.
“We’ll protect them as much as we can from any consequences,” she said. “It’s more important to get them home than worrying about what’s going to happen next. That’s the number one thing.”