WHITTIER (CNS) - Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators held a news conference Wednesday in hopes of identifying possible additional victims of a man suspected of targeting more than a dozen people in a series of sexual assaults, extortion attempts and threats that occurred across the Southland over a nearly two-year period.
The suspect, 21-year-old Michael Watson Jr., was arrested Nov. 8 in the Antelope Valley, according to the sheriff's department.
Sheriff's officials said the investigation began in February 2021, when deputies responded to a reported rape involving two women in the 17000 block of Colima Road in the Hacienda Heights area.
According to investigators, Watson allegedly befriended the women on Instagram and was invited to their home, where he allegedly raped one of them and stole their cell phones.
After fleeing the scene, Watson allegedly contacted one of the victims again over social media and issued a series of threats, including extorting money from her by threatening to post nude images online that he had accessed on one of the stolen cell phones, sheriff's officials said.
During the ensuing investigation, DNA evidence linked Watson to similar reported attacks in Los Angeles, Hollywood, East Los Angeles and Inglewood, according to the sheriff's department.
Investigators said they eventually linked the suspect to 12 attacks involving 13 female victims -- including four minors. In each case, the suspect would initiate contact with the victims over Instagram and lure them to various locations where they were assaulted, sheriff's officials said.
According to the sheriff's department, Watson was charged by the District Attorney's Office in late September with a series of counts, including sexual assault of a child under 14, forcible rape, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted extortion and grand theft.
He remains jailed in lieu of $1.8 million bail, sheriff's officials said.
In a statement, sheriff's officials said that based on the "nature of the offenses," detectives believe there may be additional victims.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Special Victims Bureau at 877-710-5273. Anonymous tips can be made by calling 800-222-8477.