MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KTVU) - A man has been charged with cyberstalking a woman for more than a decade – ever since they were in high school - all because of a comment she made about him coughing, authorities say.
Matthew Cringle, 29, of Los Altos is accused of using dummy Facebook accounts to stalk his former classmate, who is now 27 years old.
The two had a Spanish class together at Los Altos High School more than 10 years ago.
"One day in class, Cringle coughed, I guess, and did not cover his mouth, and the victim had asked him to do so and after that, unfortunately, he appeared to fixate on her and it just, this devolved from there," said Katie Nelson, Mountain View police spokeswoman.
Police say Cringle created fake profiles on Facebook and sent sexually explicit and threatening messages to the victim, her family and her friends.
According to court records, one message read, “Hey b-. I’m coming to rape and murder you.”
Cringle has previously been convicted of stalking the victim, who told police he’s also thrown rocks at her car and run into her with his bike, court records show. She was so frightened she got restraining orders against him.
But Mountain View police say the harassment continued and that Cringle even gave up masking his identity altogether.
"He was getting pretty bold, especially most recently when he was e-mailing her from his personal account, asking about her whereabouts," Nelson said
Police used search warrants to uncover the real person behind the Facebook messages, all sparked by the woman’s concern over his coughing.
"It’s definitely an unusual case and that something so small triggered something that lasted this long," Nelson said.
Santa Clara County prosecutors have charged Cringle with stalking and making criminal threats. Authorities say they’ve seen more and more criminals using social media to stalk victims.
In a statement, Deputy District Attorney Kelly Meeker said, "We take such cases seriously. Victims should be free to use these online platforms without fear of threats or harassment. We will continue to prosecute these cases and hold criminals accountable.”
Police say it's possible there are other victims out there who have not yet come forward. Cringle is being held without bail at Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose.