The teenage boys saw the young woman dancing provocatively for them on her Web camera.
They knew "Ashley" from Facebook. She said she was 19 and asked her younger Internet friends if they'd send her similar pictures of themselves.
Problem was Ashley was a 38-year-old man from suburban Kansas City.
Michael T. Cowley, who worked for the Olathe School District, faces 15 to 30 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to producing child pornography.
Information released by the U.S. Attorney's Office about the case showed a skillful online deceit, said a Wichita researcher in social networks such as Facebook.
"He appeared to have very effective sheep's clothing," said Cindy Stanford, a graduate student in psychology at Wichita State University.
In his plea Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan., Cowley admitted that by posing as "Ashley" he enticed minor boys to send him photos of themselves nude and engaging in sexual activities.
In exchange, Cowley said he would send the boys nude photos and video of a girl.
"In a separate investigation, we found that was a known child pornography video from the Internet," said prosecutor Kim Martin. "But the boys watching this thought they were watching the girl (from Facebook)."
Virtual is reality
Such scams can help educate children on safe and responsible use of social networks, Stanford said. "There are steps you and I can take as potential victims to be safe," she said. "We have to take them."
Web-savvy parents say it's difficult to protect children as they grow older and become more independent.
Viktor Tarm, a Wichita Web developer, said his teenage daughter started meeting people online at about age 5 on sites such as Disney and Neopets.
Tarm said he and his wife, Julie, reinforced basic Internet safety, such as don't give out personal information — full name, address or phone number — to strangers.
"Same as in (the) real world," Tarm said.
But as children become teens, Tarm said they tend to separate online activities from the rest of their lives.
"It is difficult to get across to them that things they say and do online have an effect in the real world," Tarm said "In my experience, they don't 'get it' until they are around 16."
"Don't talk to strangers" works with children, but teens don't always listen, Tarm said.
"'Don't meet with random people you meet online' is better advice for them," Tarm said.
Martin, the prosecutor on the Cowley case, said teens should think about their online activity as if it were happening in person.
"What he was doing would be like going to the mall and asking people, 'Would you do this for me and let me take pictures of you,' " Martin said. "Except online, kids did it."
A parent's tip led to Cowley's arrest.
Police in Vancouver, Wash., learned that a 13-year-old boy in nearby Battle Ground had exchanged nude photos with a Facebook user, "Ashley," who claimed to be a 19-year-old woman in Overland Park.
They alerted the Johnson County Sheriff's Office.
"Ashley" listed 696 friends on Facebook, Martin said.
Investigators traced an electronic trail through other online accounts, including MySpace, Yahoo and AT&T Internet Services, to an account held by Cowley.
When someone receives a friend request on Facebook, it lists "common friends" the two parties share, which helps people build their networks.
"Kids don't always understand that every time they agree to be someone's friend, they are also saying to others it's OK to be friends with this person and they are who they saw they are," said Stanford, who studies the psychology of human computer interaction.
Cowley really worked for Olathe schools and taught a computer class at Brentwood Elementary. He coached boys baseball and basketball teams, and drove a bus route for the California Trail Junior High School in Olathe.
At the Jewish Community Center, Cowley served as director of a summer sports camp for first- through sixth-grade boys and girls.
Among "Ashley's" Facebook friends were children on the teams Cowley coached.
"If he knew them, it would've be easy to send them personal messages and convince them (the invitation) was from a real person who knew them," Stanford said.
Hundreds of images
Eleven children ages 12 to 16 reported receiving nude images from "Ashley," and seven boys reported sending nude images of themselves to the Facebook account.
"He was not only a passive collector of child pornography but he used this to actively produce and collect it," Kim Martin, the prosecutor, said.
A search warrant at Cowley's residence in Shawnee found hundreds of images including photos of nude boys and girls, as well as minors engaged in sexual acts, Martin said.
"Some of the images were of children as young as 5, 6 and 7," Martin said.
Cowley is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 11 before Judge John Lungstrum.