Posted 7:39 PM 2/28/2013 : Missing local girls all had online modeling profiles
There's a common denominator in the disappearances of three young women; all were aspiring models with online profiles on sites like 'Model Mayhem' and 'Explore Talent'.
19-year-old Kara Nichols of Colorado Springs, 22-year-old Kelsie Schelling of Denver, and 17-year-old Raven Cassidy Furlong of Aurora are all still missing. Officials can't say for sure if their disappearances are connected to their modeling careers, but they do say there's a dangerous subculture surrounding these sites, where it's easy for girls to get lured into potentially dangerous situations including drug rings and sex trafficking.
Julia Nichols hasn't heard from her daughter Kara since October 9th when she left Colorado Springs, headed for a modeling gig in Denver. "A person doesn't usually choose to be missing from her family and friends," Nichols told News 5's Jacqui Heinrich in an interview. "I do think she was lured into a situation that got beyond her control. The fact that other girls have disappeared from this website makes us very suspicious."
It was a modeling gig possibly stemming from her online profile on modelmayhem.com, a popular networking site where aspiring models and photographers can connect. "We were concerned from the get-go as far as the inherent subculture we see often times associated with some of these sites," Lieutenant Jeff Kramer of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said in regard to Kara Nichols' disappearance. "It's a subculture which often times involves illicit drug use, prostitution, things of that nature. We were concerned that she may have fallen prey or victim to that type of subculture," Kramer said.
This month alone two more women have disappeared, and they too had online modeling profiles. Kelsie Schelling of Denver-- featured on the modeling website exploretalent.com -- was last seen February 4th. Ten days later, her car was found mysteriously abandoned in a Pueblo Walmart parking lot. There's been no sign of her since.
Raven Cassidy Furlong, a 17-year-old from Aurora, also went missing. Police consider her a runaway, but her family fears she may have fallen prey to a modeling site predator. She had been working her profile on modelmayhem.com.
"They lurk behind the scenes and choose their victims, they seemingly look for girls that are brand new to modeling, probably naïve about the ways of the world and may be excited or even a little desperate to get involved," Julia Nichols said of the online modeling community.
"If the young ladies who are using these types of sites respond to the inquiries, they never really know who they might be meeting and what their intentions are," Lieutenant Kramer said.
Three local girls: all missing, all models with online profiles. It raises questions about the safety of these sites, which police consider a possible gateway for human trafficking. It's that possibility that keeps mother Julia Nichols awake at night. "The horrible thing is we just don't know. We don't know if shes in danger or some sort of underground situation that she feels she can't get out of or has no control," Nichols said.
The investigations into those missing girls are still being worked by police. In the meantime, they're warning people who use those sites -- and any site that involves meeting up with strangers-- to never go alone, and always try to do business in a well-lit public place.