Jonesville police arrested a Hillsdale man after an anti-trafficking group confronted him in a sex predator sting.
The Jonesville Police Department arrested Mark Shemwell, 45, on Tuesday evening, according to Jonesville Police Chief Mike Lance. Shemwell faces charges of solicitation of a minor for immoral purposes and using a computer in commission of a crime.
“I run an organization that exposes child predators,” Christopher Abercrombie said to Shemwell in a video posted to Facebook. “Who is the girl you’ve been having a conversation with?”
“I think her name is Skylar,” Shemwell said.
“How old is Skylar?” Abercrombie asked.
“I think she said she is 15,” Shemwell said.
Shemwell was an English teacher at North Adams-Jerome Public Schools, according to LinkedIn, and part owner of Shemwell’s Academy of Martial Arts in Jonesville.
Abercrombie is part of an Indianapolis group called “Exposing Predators of Innocent Children,” which creates profiles on social media platforms as bait to catch sex predators. Shemwell reached out to one of these profiles, which appears as a 15-year-old girl named Skyler, on a platform called “Tagged” on Jan. 4.
“They have to message us first,” Abercrombie said.
Shemwell asked if the girl had a Snapchat account, according to documents obtained by The Collegian. “Skylar” said no, but offered her phone number, and Shemwell reached out to the girl – actually members of EPIC, by text.
The two spoke for more than two weeks, acting as if they were in a romantic relationship. The documents appear to show they eventually planned to meet and have intercourse in Shemwell’s car.
Lance said the department would provide a thorough investigation, and officers are still working to verify the messages and evidence that EPIC provided them.
Abercrombie and Donnie Clifford, both with EPIC, confronted Shemwell in Jonesville at Shemwell’s Academy of Martial Arts on Tuesday evening close to 7:30 p.m. EPIC posted a video of the interaction on Facebook, which showed them speaking with Shemwell as they waited for police to arrive.
A Jonesville police officer then arrived, Abercrombie and Clifford provided the evidence, and the officer arrested Shemwell.
“On the scene, he did a preliminary investigation based on the information he had and information from both EPIC and from initially talking to the suspect, Mr. Shemwell. He made a custodial arrest,” Lance said. “The investigation is ongoing.”
Shemwell faced arraignment for the charge of solicitation of a minor for immoral purposes on Jan. 24 and is set for a probable cause conference Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. He has a $15,000 full cash bond.
Lance said police will pursue a forensic investigation, and Shemwell and his family will be given the same legal protections as anyone else.
“People can jump to the conclusions based on what’s been put on Facebook or livestream,” Lance said. “The suspect who was arrested and the family, they’re entitled to due process under the law.”
Senior Sabrina Sherman said she was glad to hear about the arrest, and to see the local Facebook community condemning anyone who would take advantage of children.
“I’m really happy they were able to get him,” Sherman said.
Shemwell’s Academy of Martial Arts responded to the arrest Tuesday night on facebook, saying Shemwell had been “credibly accused” of attempting to solicit a minor for sex.
“This is absolutely unbelievable. I have no words to describe how incredibly sorry I am that any of you have been exposed to this kind of behavior,” wrote Mark’s brother Paul Shemwell, also a part owner. “Shemwell’s Academy absolutely and unconditionally condemns this behavior. At this time, I honestly have no idea what to even do.”
Paul Shemwell said the gym would close through the weekend so it could respond to the news. He said people should call, text, or email if they need anything, and he would do his best to respond.
Abercrombie said on facebook that the community should respect the privacy of Mark Shemwell’s family.
“Leave the family and their business pages alone, they are handling the issue,” Abercrombie wrote. “His wife, brother and kids had nothing to do with this, they are all dealing with their lives turned upside down.”
Abercrombie said he helped start EPIC because he experienced abuse.
“I was abused as a kid, and there’s a lot of child predators in my family. I’ve been very vocal about this,” he said. “There are kids out there being hurt every day.”
Parents should speak with their children about difficult topics like abuse and online safety, Abercrombie said.
“Parents are not checking these kids’ devices,” he said. “We’re allowing these monsters right into our house and they’re not walking through the front door.”
Lance said anyone with information pertinent to the investigation should contact the Jonesville Police Department or the appropriate law enforcement agency.