The woman was arrested after a passenger on a flight from Seattle to San Jose, California, saw a man sending text messages about sexually molesting young children, according to criminal charges.
Pierce County prosecutors have filed state child-rape charges against a Tacoma woman already in federal custody in connection with an alleged child-abuse conspiracy broken up by a passenger who saw and photographed a man sending suspicious text messages on a July 31 flight from Seattle to San Jose, California.
Gail Lynn Burnworth, 50, was charged Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court with one count of first-degree child rape, first-degree child molestation and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist said.
Burnworth was arrested by members of a joint state-federal Internet Crimes Against Children task force and was booked into the Pierce County Jail on Aug. 1 after providing astatement to detectives. According to jail records, she was released the evening of Aug. 3 after Lindquist’s office was unable to gather enough evidence to file state charges within 72 hours.
The FBI was able to obtain a federal complaint charging her with conspiracy to produce child pornography and she was arrested again by agents in a Tacoma hotel room the following day, according to sources familiar with the case.
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Burnworth remains in federal custody. She will be arraigned on the state charges at a later date.
Burnworth’s initial arrest came after a man identified as Michael Kellar was observed texting what appeared to be plans to rape a child, according to charges. He was noticed by a passenger sitting behind him on a Southwest Airlines flight, the charges say. The passenger took photographs of the texts and alerted authorities when they landed.
Kellar, 56, was arrested at Mineta San Jose International Airport and charged with attempted child molestation and solicitation of a sex crime, both felonies. He is being held without bail at the Santa Clara County Jail.
The investigation indicated that Burnworth, who had met Kellar on match.com, had access to three young children. According to the charges, she admitted videotaping and taking photos while raping a 5-year-old.
In one of the videos, the child can be seen trying to protect herself and yelling, “Stop it,” the charges allege.
“The hero of this story is the observant plane passenger who reported this threat to children,” Lindquist said in a prepared statement. “Everyone can help protect children from sexual abuse by being vigilant.”