Search for girl's killer expands to the Internet

Police want identity of acquaintance

November 15, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

America Online has turned over e-mails and subscriber information that Howard County police sought as part of their investigation into the death of Ashley Nicole Mason, company officials said yesterday.

Police have not identified any suspects in the stabbing of the 14-year-old Columbia girl and are trying to glean clues from her online correspondence on AOL. According to a police affidavit filed in Loudoun County, Va., a friend of Ashley's accuses an AOL user - identified by the user name SODACAN21 - of threatening Ashley with violence.

"We're not calling this a lead," police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said yesterday of the AOL material. "We are not giving it any more weight than we've given any other piece of information that we're learning."

The sheriff's office of Loudoun County, where AOL is based, filed a search warrant affidavit Monday seeking account information, "buddy list" material and e-mails of VICIOUSBABYGURL, which was Ashley's screen name.

The warrant sought the same information for SODACAN21. In the affidavit, Howard County Detective William Block wrote that an unidentified friend of Ashley's had told police that both the friend and Ashley had communicated online with SODACAN21 and that the AOL user had threatened Ashley with physical harm if she stopped exchanging messages with him or her.

An Internet search for SODACAN21 turned up a couple of hits. One of them showed a player profile page from the Alien Adoption Agency, a science fiction role-playing site in which players take on the identities of otherworldly creatures.

The profile page for "SodaCan21" identifies the player as Neal, a 16-year-old boy from Orlando, Fla., whose "likes" include "members of the opposite sex" and whose "dislikes" include "Communists and stupid people."

A longtime friend of Ashley's who did not want to be identified said yesterday that Ashley had been carrying on an online relationship with a Floridian named Neal. Because police would not comment on the contents of the affidavit, it was unclear yesterday what connection, if any, SODACAN21 had to Ashley.

The Internet search also turned up a Web site identified as the home page of SODACAN21. This site included links to games and online music sites.

Attempts to e-mail SODACAN21 met with messages saying that access was denied.

The information sought in the Loudoun County warrant would readily yield the identity of SODACAN21, AOL spokesman Nicholas J. Graham said yesterday.

"We will continue to cooperate with [police] to bring some kind of a resolution to this case," Graham said.

The warrant was obtained shortly after police gained another piece of potential evidence.

On Friday, an unidentified man gave police a knife he had found on Bendix Road the morning of Nov. 3. Ashley's body was found that morning next to a shopping center parking lot at Bendix Road and Route 108. Police have ruled out the man as a suspect in the case and have sent the knife to a laboratory for tests.

Sun staff writer Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.

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