Computer experts working in the State Bureau of Investigation's new computer forensics unit extracted information that led to Cori Reid Johnson's location, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Thursday.
Through e-mail and examination of Web pages Johnson had viewed, the computer forensics unit identified her travel plans and an address in the New Orleans area where she could be located, even though the information had been deleted from her computer.
Authorities said Johnson traveled to New Orleans with a 21-year-old man. Johnson was last seen Monday afternoon, just hundreds of feet from her home.
After Johnson was reported missing, police investigated and then asked the SBI for help Wednesday morning, and they quickly discovered that she had visited bus schedule information through the Internet.
A bus station employee recognized Johnson's photo, and said she had left for New Orleans with a man who had arrived in Southern Pines at 9:30 a.m. the same day. The Jefferson Parrish Sheriff's Department found the girl Wednesday night.
Maurice Johnson, Cori's father, said he had warned his daughter about the Internet, but he said she surfed the Internet looking for online friendship.
"We've tried to keep her from just posting all that, like profiles. Kids put on there what they like and dislike and these professionals go in there, get that information and start corresponding with them," he said.
Cooper praised the work of SBI field agents and the computer forensics unit, and urged parents to keep a close eye on their children's use of the Internet.
"This case is a vivid example of the why it's so important for law enforcement to have quick access to the best computer forensics tools available. Fortunately this case has a happy ending," Cooper said. "Today, people who might exploit children don't just loiter around the playgrounds. More and more, they are targeting victims through the Internet. And we as parents need to keep a watchful eye on our children's use of computers and the Internet."
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