(Crystal Sunderman | Sheriff Randall Forsyth)Microsoft's Xbox Live is more than just a matchmaking service for gamers — it's also a popular social networking tool. Authorities in Iowa, however, believe it was the genesis for a runaway plot conceived by four Iowa teens.
Two teenage girls from the town of Shellsburg and two teenage boys from Atlantic (which is about 200 miles away) were reported missing Saturday. According to police and parents, the runaways met though the online game service.
16-year-old Corey Sunderman met 15-year-old Jazlyn Visek though Xbox Live and planned the action with two other teens, says his mother Crystal Sunderman.
"I don't let him have a Facebook account because I don't want him meeting people online," she said. "I didn't realize they could do so much on Xbox."
Corey Sunderman and Austin Boggs, age 13, disappeared Saturday morning, taking a laptop, $400 in cash, and a 1997 Jeep Cherokee with them. Visek and her friend, 15-year old Skie Floyd, went missing later that day.
Police say none of the teens have been heard from since their disappearance, but say one possible destination is a Florida skateboarding park. However, there is some evidence the girls did not expect to be gone long.
"One of the things that's a little out of the ordinary for a normal runaway is Skie did not take anything with her other than her cell phone," said Sheriff Randall Forsyth of Benton County.
Corey Sunderman has a track record of running away from home, most recently over the summer with another girl he met over Xbox Live.
Parents are pleading for the children to contact them.
"The most important thing of all is that wherever our kids are, whatever they're doing, if any one of them decides they've had enough, that this isn't as exciting as they thought that they want to come home, as their parents we will do anything to get them home," said Crystal Sunderman.
"We'll protect them as much as we can from any consequences … It's more important to get them home than worrying about what's going to happen next. That's the number one thing."
This isn't the first time kids have used Xbox Live to make long distance friends, then run away from home to meet them. In September, 13-year old Beth Robinson stole her brother's car to visit an Xbox acquaintance who lived over 1,000 miles away.
She made it as far as Nashville, Tennessee before she was stopped by a state trooper who had been alerted that she might be passing through.