Man accused of using modeling ruse to sexually assault League City child turns himself in, police say

LEAGUE CITY, Texas – Authorities said Tuesday the man accused of using a modeling ruse to sexually assault a child in League City last month has turned himself in.

The attack was reported just before noon Dec. 8 at a home on Rocky Cove Lane near Bay Creek Drive and FM Road 646.

According to League City police, the child was contacted by Joel Christopher Acuna, 27, on the LIKEE app under the pretense that they could become a model.

Police said the child ended up giving their address to Acuna on the app, thinking he was coming to conduct an in-person evaluation. Police said Acuna showed up about a half-hour later and assaulted the child once he was inside the home.

“A male showed up at the house driving a Hyundai Accent, black in color; a hatchback,” Officer John Griffith said. “The male then entered the home and assaulted the child.”

Wheatley Mashburn, a friend of the victim’s family was able to aid in the investigation. His security camera and several others on the street caught Acuna’s car.

“If you get a good enough picture of who’s doing it, it’s only a matter of time before they get them now,” Mashburn said.

Acuna was last seen driving a dark-colored hatchback car that could be a 2014 or 2015 Hyundai Accent, according to police.

Authorities released these images of a car believed to have been driven by a man who sexually assaulted a child in League City, Texas, on Dec. 8, 2019. (League City Police Department)

According to Griffith, the delay in the arrest was due to the company’s foreign roots.

“We gave them time to respond; they didn’t respond,” Griffith said. “We reached out to homeland security, they are actually still working with us now to try and get the info from the company. But we were not getting any headway, so investigators decided the best option would be now.”

Police said early Tuesday afternoon that Acuna had turned himself into authorities.

“He showed up at the police station with his phone," Griffith said. “He said, ‘That’s me on Facebook.’"

Investigators said they believe there may be other victims. Acuna was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Keeping up with social media trends may seem like a never-ending cycle for parents, but Griffith said there is one sure way to end the game of cat and mouse.

“There’s actually a setting in here that parents can restrict download or upload of applications onto the device,” Griffith said.

The LIKEE app has no shortage of negative reviews. Many calling it “disgusting,” while warning others that “young kids (are) being encouraged to do sexual acts.”

“You gotta watch what you’re doing online,” Mashburn said. “There are people everywhere and you never really know who it is.”

According to the application website, they are based out of Singapore.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call League City police at 281-338-4189.

LIKEE issues statement about case, app

Helen Wong, a spokeswoman for LIKEE, sent the following statement to KPRC 2 on Wednesday morning:

"We have been aware of this incident and feel very sorry about the incident. We are also saddened to hear that the Likee app has been misused in such a manner. We stand in solidarity with the victim and we will do all we can to prevent this from happening in future.

"We have put in place several measures prior to this incident, specifically with child protection in mind. But like many other apps, this also involves active and involved parental guidance when it comes to young adults, as well as proper usage by all our users. We encourage all our users to read the user policies and familiarize themselves with the different functions of the app so that we can co-create a safe and trusted environment in our app.

"We would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the measures within Likee. Firstly, there is a Parental Control function which allows parents to remotely control or restrict their children’s access to content within the app. Some of the key functions are:

  • Automatically turn all new videos published by the child into private mode in which users will not be able to have access to such videos;
  • Block live broadcasts, news and content deemed by the parents to be not suitable for viewing by children and adolescents, in the Popular section;
  • Block viewing of profiles of users located nearby, and subscription to their accounts;
  • Block live broadcasts conducted by the child;
  • Block incoming and outgoing messages;
  • Block pop-up messages; and
  • Limit in-app purchase.

"The default setting to show location and commentary is automatically set to “off” when the parental control mode turns on.

"In addition, Likee has a monitoring framework in place on hosted content – posts involving cruel pranks, profanity, violence, hate speech, sexual content among others, are actively being blocked. This includes:

  • Ensure video and imagery safety for user’s account by removing illegal, offensive and derogatory content from feeds and messages;
  • Detect in real time obscene and offensive chats and take immediate appropriate actions, such as banning the account;
  • Issue a ban on the account of the user, but also to restrict the same user from setting up another account.

"Further, in order to accelerate the blockage of inappropriate accounts by users, Likee has a special reporting function within the app, with all the reports being handled within 24 hours.

"We are constantly working to see how we can further improve this framework and strengthen child protection measures.

"We are willing to work with local enforcement agencies if needed to bring the offending party to justice. We have been assisting the League Police Department in this case and will provide them with all necessary assistances in any legal investigations.

"However, no preventive measure can ever replace active parental guidance. We strongly urge parents and guardians to take an active and communicative role in the usage of apps and the internet in general, especially with young adults. This will instill in them good internet practices and behaviors and will set them up for success in the future – which is not possible without social networks in the digital era. "

About the Authors:

Aaron Barker has been a senior digital editor at KPRC 2 since 2016. As a meteorologist, he specializes in stories about the weather. He has covered Hurricane Harvey, the Astros first World Series win, the Santa Fe High School shooting, the ITC fire and Tropical Storm Imelda.