A California man charged with making cyber threats to an Indiana teenager is the person behind the “Purge of Maine” Facebook account that posted sexually explicit photos of Maine girls two years ago, authorities say.

Buster Hernandez, 26, of Bakersfield, California, conducted a “nationwide cyber extortion” campaign in which he threatened more than 100 victims in at least 10 federal districts in several states and in Canada, according to the U.S. attorney in southern Indiana.

Hernandez is charged in connection with the Indiana case with threatening to use an explosive device, threatening to injure and sexual exploitation of a child, after police tracked his internet service provider address using a special code, according to a news release Wednesday from U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler in the Southern District of Indiana.

Investigators accused Hernandez, also known as Brian Kil and Purge of Maine, of launching the online threats over a period of two to three years.

“Terrorizing young victims through the use of social media and hiding behind the anonymity of the internet will not be tolerated by this office,” Minkler said in the Wednesday release. “Those who think they can outwit law enforcement and are above being caught should think again. Mr. Hernandez’s reign of terror is over.”

It’s unclear whether Hernandez would face any charges in Maine. Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday he was aware of the news but had no new information on the case.

Authorities don’t know why Hernandez allegedly targeted states such as Maine and Indiana, but they say they found the connection to the Purge of Maine Facebook page while conducting forensic examinations of his computer, according to Tim Horty, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney Office in the Southern District of Indiana, in an interview Wednesday.

Hernandez is accused of initiating his cyber extortion scheme by using different social media accounts to send messages to young girls, according to a criminal complaint cited by RTV 6, an Indiana television station. The complaint alleges he would say, “How many guys have you sent dirty pics to cause I have some of you?”

In the Indiana case, Hernandez is accused of using Facebook to communicate with the teenage girl for 16 months, extorting her to send sexually explicit images while ultimately threatening to kill her and others if she didn’t.

Hernandez initially appeared Aug. 4 in the Eastern District of California and was scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon before a magistrate judge in Indianapolis. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and a maximum of 30 years if he is convicted on all counts, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany J. Preston.

He is being held by the U.S. Marshals Service, but authorities said they cannot release the specific facility where he’s in custody and they did not release a photo of him.

THE MAINE CONNECTION

News of charges against Hernandez comes nearly two years after a string of mysterious threats and posts on social media to exploit girls sexually drew the attention of police in Maine.

In September 2015, a Facebook page called the “Purge of Maine” began posting sexually explicit photos of girls. It was taken down by Facebook after central Maine law enforcement agencies complained to the social networking site, but it resurfaced a number of times with varying names such as “Maine Purge” or “Purge Maine.”

The original page featured dozens of photos, some of which showed nude girls, and a boast that police wouldn’t be able to stop the postings.

Local and state police were in contact with Facebook to have the pages taken down but to preserve the administrator’s account so they could trace who was posting the explicit material.

Oakland police Capt. Rick Stubbert said Wednesday he was glad to hear that someone has been charged in the case. His department was among those that initially had contacted Facebook and asked the public for information on who was responsible.

While the Purge of Maine page seemed at first to target a number of students at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, local police have not been involved in the subsequent investigations, he said.

The Maine State Police task force got involved in the investigation but didn’t have answers at the time about who was posting the photos or how they were getting them. A handful of the images were identified by authorities as people from Maine, but police said at the time they were still working to determine where many of them came from.

The Facebook pages, which gained attention in late August and early September 2015 and coincided with the start of a new school year, generated a flurry of responses from the public, including many people who expressed disgust and disapproval of them on social media. Thousands of people liked a Facebook page called “Support the victims of the purge of Maine” while another Facebook page, called “Anti-Purge Maine,” also had been started at the time.

Alicia Barnes, who was working as a digital media consultant in Waterville at the time, was among those reporting the pages and their posts to Facebook.

Barnes said Wednesday that she hadn’t yet heard about the charges and allegations against Hernandez, but said she is “impressed and glad” that authorities had identified a suspect.

“I was really frustrated” when it was happening, said Barnes, who now works as an advertising analyst in Rockport. “I wasn’t just reporting the pages; I was reporting every single post.”

INDIANA THREATS

The criminal case against Hernandez now centers on what happened to a teenage girl in an Indianapolis suburb.

In December 2015, the Brownsburg Police Department contacted the FBI for assistance with a cyber threat case that involved a minor female victim, who is a resident of Plainfield, Indiana. A person known as Brian Kil on Facebook was accused of threatening to kill the girl’s classmates, as well as law enforcement, when she refused to send him more sexually explicit photos. The pattern of extortion continued for about 16 months.

During that time, Hernandez — accused of using the Brian Kil identity — made several threats that were “pretty vicious,” according to Horty. The person threatened to shoot the victim’s mother and her classmates, as well as attack a local shopping center, authorities say, and said things like, “I am coming for you. I will slaughter your entire class and save you for last,” and, “I will add a dozen dead police to my tally. … Try me pigs, I will finish you off as well.”

In transcripts of messages to the victims, Brian Kil said he wanted to be the worst cyber terrorist who ever lived, according to the RTV 6 television station.

Plainfield and Danville high schools were closed in response to the threats, as well as the Shops at Perry Crossing in Plainfield.

During this time, Hernandez is accused of extorting explicit photos from two other minors, posting the photos and videos that one sent when she stopped complying with his demands. Authorities say he asked another victim to attend a community forum in Plainfield to record law enforcement statements about the investigation into Brian Kil.

Authorities say they got onto Hernandez’s trail when the FBI took over one victim’s social media accounts after the threats were made. The FBI, using the victim’s account, sent Hernandez a video that also contained a piece of tracking code called a NIT, or Network Investigative Technique, Horty said. Once Hernandez downloaded the video with the NIT in June, the FBI was able to find his true IP address.

Once police had the IP address, they subpoenaed Bright House, a telecom company, for the subscriber information, according to RTV 6.

They found that Hernandez lived at a house on Eucalyptus Drive in Bakersfield, California, with his girlfriend and her grandmother.

The FBI, the Indiana State Police, and the Plainfield and Brownsburg police departments all contributed to the investigation.

Authorities said that those who believe they were victims of extortion by Hernandez, or his aliases Brian Kil and the Purge of Maine, can contact the Indianapolis FBI Office at 317-595-4000, Option 2, to make a report.

‘TREMENDOUS GAPS’

One major problem in such cases is getting victims to come forward, according to David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center and a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has researched “sextortion” used against minors.

“The kids, we find, are very reluctant to tell anyone about what’s going on,” Finkelhor said in an interview Wednesday, adding that they often feel ashamed or guilty for getting involved. They need to be told that if someone is threatening them in this way, they should tell someone else immediately, he said.

Victims also often feel disappointed with social media companies’ response, according to Finkelhor.

“Because of increased discussion about the problem, the social media companies have been getting more active, but I think that they are still tremendous gaps,” he said. Many of the victims he spoke to in his research said they had trouble finding information on what the websites could do, and that when they did try to contact people at the companies they were often told nothing could be done. It “compounded” their sense of helplessness, he said.

Barnes, the former Waterville digital media consultant, said she monitors her two sons’ use of social media and she isn’t aware of whether Facebook has increased its security on such problems. “Anybody can create a page on Facebook. There’s really no way to vet them,” she said. “The only way to get them taken down is to report them.”

While some companies are adding staff to monitor these issues, Finkelhor said he isn’t convinced that those people have the right experience or sensitivity. There’s also still a “commitment to openness,” and a worry that any move toward regulation will open a can of worms.

But, Finkelhor said, “in truth, these are private companies that have a business model that is organized around attracting a lot of minors to their sites. Because they are minors, (the companies) have a responsibility.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

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Twitter: @madelinestamour