A Navy officer has been accused of using chat programs to try and lure a person whom he believed to be a 14-year-old girl into meeting him for sex, federal court documents show.
Christopher Paul Hetherington, a 33-year-old lieutenant, was arrested Dec. 21. According to an affidavit filed in the case, he was stationed on the destroyer USS Ross as its weapons officer and had been selected for promotion to lieutenant commander.
The investigation, which began in late October, started looking into Hetherington when he allegedly responded to a post that an undercover agent from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service made on Whisper — an app that allows anonymous posting of photos and video. The Ross had just completed a homeport change to Norfolk from Rota, Spain, in early September.
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After the agent told the suspect she was in 9th grade, he moved the conversation to Snapchat where, according to the court document, his username was “sw0daddy” and he had “a display name of ‘Chris H.'”
This detail, among a few others, quickly led investigators to suspect they were dealing with a sailor.
“As a former Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) in the U.S. Navy, I know that ‘SWO’ is short for Surface Warfare Officer,” the agent wrote in the affidavit.
She also noted that, at one point, the suspect said “he was wearing ‘coveralls,’ which I know to be a common uniform for SWOs and other U.S. Navy service members that work on ships.”
Military.com reached out to the Navy for a comment and independent confirmation of Hetherington’s status but did not hear back by publication. Hetherington’s lawyer told Military.com she had no comment in an email Wednesday.
Hetherington would go on to converse with the account that he believed belonged to a young teenage girl for more than a month, according to the affidavit. Early on in their conversations, he would ask for assurances that the person on the other end of the conversation was not a cop.
“You not a cop right, Like can you show me your I’d? [sic]” Hetherington asked the agent on Nov. 5, as recounted in court filings.
The conversation eventually became more and more sexual and, by Dec. 11, the Navy officer asked the agent for pictures of what he believed to be a 14-year-old girl in her underwear. That same day, Hetherington suggested having sex and assured the undercover agent that he “would wear a condom.”
Days later, the court documents describe that agents began to confirm Hetherington’s identity by not only searching databases for his Navy status but verifying his address and phone number. On Dec. 15, the undercover agent called a number tied to the Navy officer and listened to a voicemail message.
“I recognized the voice of the individual leaving the voicemail as the same individual as Snapchat user ‘sw0daddy’ during our Snapchat audio calls,” the agent wrote in the document.
Hetherington is at least the second sailor to be arrested recently on charges related to child pornography. In May 2022, the Justice Department announced it had arrested 34-year-old Adam Lee-Fucci Ferenbach, “an active-duty member of the U.S. Navy, stationed at Naval Station Mayport” after agents found a cellphone of his that had “several videos in the device’s photo application depicting young children being sexually abused.”
Hetherington has been charged with attempting to coerce a minor and attempting to make child pornography. Court records show he is in jail ahead of his trial. His next hearing is set for Jan. 10, 2023.
— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
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