MILPITAS, Calif. - Agents with the Santa Clara County Internet Crimes Against Children task force Thursday morning removed laptops, a computer hard drive, and other evidence from a nicely appointed townhome a tony section of Milpitas.
Their presence is part of an investigation into alleged child sexual exploitation.
Neighbors describe the search site as "the vampire house," because they say, the family, including two young children, are up during overnight hours, but never during the day.
"It’s a little scary, I think obviously. It’s a close community. I guess close community in two aspects. One is physically close, and two it’s a really close community. You seem to know everybody. You feel like you know everybody," said neighbor Colin Harding.
He and his wife, Renata, said a sixth-sense told them something wasn’t right about the neighbors living directly behind them, in the 600 block of Carino Terrace.
Agents declined to talk on-camera, but told KTVU they’re following a trail of clues in a case involving the distribution of child pornography.
"Easy accessibility of smart phones have definitely increased the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse media," said Dr. Bryce Westlake.
He trains the next generation of digital forensic investigators, as an associate professor in the San Jose State University Dept. of Justice Studies.
Westlake said each year, the number of reported cases to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children increases substantially. In 2020, during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center received 69 million reports.
"We are seeing an increase. It’s unclear whether that increase is a result of increased enforcement or identification. Or the result of increased distribution. It’s most likely a combination of the two," said Dr. Westlake.
Agents in the Milpitas case say there were no arrests, and that the case is still active.
Neighbors lament seeing warning signs, but not taking action due to self-doubt during a pandemic, when many things seem strange.
"Better to be safe than sorry. I would have called it in. it’s still strange that kids are up at night. And maybe, hope to god, the kids were left out of this," said neighbor Renata Harding.
Detectives do not believe the two children living at the home are at the center of their investigation or were exploited in any way. But they would like anyone with information to contact them. Det. Sean Pierce of the Santa Clara County ICAC is heading the investigation, and can be reached at (408) 537-1397.