Crime - Sacto 911

Former ARC student sentenced in social-media extortion, child porn case

He hacked into girls’ and young women’s social media accounts for compromising photos of his victims, then threatened to post the images to family, friends and others if they didn’t pose for more graphic photos and videos.

For years, Christian Brian Hirtzel, a 21-year-old theater arts student at American River College “sextorted” his victims in this way, only upping the ante with new demands and threats if they complied.

Among his victims were young women he dated. Some were young women he hardly knew. One said she thought, for a time, that she loved him.

On Tuesday, Hirtzel’s victims, their friends and families crowded a Sacramento courtroom to make sure he would never hurt them again.

Hirtzel was sentenced Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court to four years and eight months in state prison little more than a month after pleading no contest in June to felony charges of extortion, accessing a computer to extort, contacting a minor to commit a sex offense and possession of child pornography. He must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Nothing is going to be good enough, but it’s good enough for now. I feel like it’s finally over.

Aria Barker, 22, one of Christian Hirtzel’s victims

Hirtzel let out a short groan as Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman read the sentence, then appeared to cry, his back to the rows of his victims and their supporters in the gallery.

“You planted so many unseen scars,” Bowman told Hirtzel. The college student’s crimes, Bowman said, “test the bounds of decency.”

Sacramento County district attorney’s prosecutors alleged Hirtzel anonymously messaged his victims threatening to send and post the images and threatening their families if they told anyone.

Aria Barker, now 22, and attending college in Los Angeles, dated Hirtzel in middle school and again in high school. By 2011, she had become one of his victims and would be for the next two years. She said she never knew who was sending the images and threats until his arrest earlier this year.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more of these (crimes). They’re brave behind the computer, but they’re crying behind the cell.

James Wax, Sacramento County deputy district attorney

Barker addressed the court at the hearing. The threats became more violent, she said.

“I will destroy your family if you rat on me,” she said one read. At another point, the anonymous poster said “he owned me,” Barker said. “I felt desperate and drained.”

Following the Tuesday hearing, Barker said she came forward only after Hirtzel was identified and arrested in January. Hirtzel’s arrest came after a yearlong investigation by Los Rios Community College District police and Sacramento County sheriff’s detectives.

“I did all these things to protect my life, my family, my reputation,” Barker said after the hearing. “It hurts because I loved him at some point. Nothing is going to be good enough, but it’s good enough for now. I feel like it’s finally over.”

Los Rios officials on Tuesday expressed relief at the verdict and pride for the young women who alerted authorities to Hirtzel, calling it “a good day for ARC.”

“We’re proud of the students who had the courage to step forward. If it weren’t for students stepping up and contacting faculty who contacted the police, Hirtzel might still be walking around,” they said. “Instead, months later, here we are at a sentencing of someone who engaged in this abysmal behavior.”

James Wax is the Sacramento County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case out of the office’s recently formed cyber crimes unit. He says the crimes are becoming more common.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more of these (crimes),” Wax said. “They’re brave behind the computer, but they’re crying behind the cell.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith