Parents say 'sextortion' by inmates drove Army veteran to suicide

The parents of a U.S. Army veteran who took his life last year blame his suicide on inmates in South Carolina who they say carried out a "sextortion" plot.

Kathy Bowling and Kevin Johns believe that scammers from Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, S.C. contacted Jared Johns and pretended to be the parents of a 17-year-old girl who had sent him illicit photographs, and demanded $1,189 to cover costs of disconnecting the phone and buying a new one.

According to transcripts of text message conversations, which the parents shared with Greenville News, the 24-year-old Johns had a conversation with a person claiming to be “James Harris,” and his wife “Mrs Harris.” In a series of back-and-forth messages, which appeared to have taken place after a phone call that got disconnected, Johns writes that he understands why the couple would be so upset.

“I have two kids of my own a 2 year old and 1 year old,” he wrote, adding he has no recollection of the incident. He pleads for clarification, to no avail.

"She is going to the police and you are going to jail,” Mrs Harris replied.

Shortly after that last exchange – and on the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the event that made him want to join the military — Johns died from a self-inflicted gunshot, according to Greenville County Senior Deputy Coroner Kent Dill.

“I think the PTSD just took over,” his mother told The Greenville News, referring to a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that Johns received after returning from service in Afghanistan.

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An estimated 20 veterans and active duty soldiers die by suicide every day, according to a recent analysis by the Veterans Administration. Johns had to wait for a year and a half to start receiving disability benefits, but his life finally seemed to be getting back to normal; he was working as a manager at a local AT&T store, and was excited about the birth of his son Jaxson, she said.

Greenville police offered few details, but confirmed that they are investigating the matter, and are trying to determine if there’s a connection between inmates at the South Carolina prison and Jared Johns.

In November, five South Carolina prison inmates were charged with using smuggled smartphones to lure service members — extorting more than $550,000.

The largest male-only maximum-security facility in South Carolina, Lee Correctional Institution is no stranger to headlines. Last year, seven inmates were killed and 22 were injured in the deadliest prison riot in the U.S. in the last 25 years.

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