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A Washington man has been sentenced to 15 years after a fellow airline passenger spotted him sending disturbing text messages referring to his molestation of children.
Michael Kellar, a 58-year-old Tacoma resident, was sentenced on Feb. 14 to 15 years in prison for conspiracy to produce child pornography, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington said in a press release.
Kellar was arrested in August 2017 after a stranger on the same flight as him a month prior witnessed him sending incriminating text messages about drugging and raping children, according to the release. The texts were sent to Kellar’s girlfriend, 52-year-old Tacoma resident Gail Lynn Burnworth, and were concerning the molestation of two children who were in her care, the release states. After the witness who spotted the disturbing text exchanges notified a flight attendant about what they had seen, the flight attendant and others in charge arranged for the authorities to be waiting for them upon their arrival at the airport, according to the office.
Kellar was questioned by police after disembarking from the plane and was arrested, with investigators finding that he and Burnworth had discussed creating and sharing pornographic images of the children who were in her care, the office said. The couple had also discussed drugging and raping the children. Both were arrested in August 2017; both Kellar and Burnworth were charged the following month with conspiracy to produce child pornography, while Kellar alone was charged with two counts of attempted enticement of a minor, the office said in a previous release. Burnworth was also charged in Pierce County Superior Court with child rape, child molestation, and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, according to that release.
The children in question, whom Burnworth babysat for, were 5 and 7 years old, and investigators found that Kellar and Burnworth had already produced and shared with others several hundred explicit images of the children, according to PEOPLE.
During last Friday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton described the allegations as “the most disturbing case” he’s ever had.
In a statement released by the office, U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran commended the reporting passenger for taking action and, by extension, insuring the protection and safety of two children.
“I commend the airline passenger who spoke up about the disturbing texts she witnessed on her flight. We all have had that moment when we question: ‘Do I get involved,’” Moran said. “In this case, that witness triggered the rescue of two small children and the investigation that revealed this defendant to be a predator – collecting images of child sexual abuse.”
Burnworth has entered a guilty plea to the charge of conspiracy to produce child porn, according to PEOPLE. She's scheduled to appear in court on March 27, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington.
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