published Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Passionate Erik Estrada pitches film on Internet sex predators

Erik Estrada will be at Abba's House for the screening of "Finding Faith," a film about Internet crimes involving children.
Erik Estrada will be at Abba's House for the screening of "Finding Faith," a film about Internet crimes involving children.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: "Finding Faith"

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Abba's House, 5208 Hixson Pike

Admission: Free

Phone: 877-6462, ext. 290

Website: www.Finding FaithFilm.com or www.abbashouse.com (to schedule child care)

RULES FOR SAFE SURFIN'

Erik Estrada, national celebrity spokesman for the Safe Surfin' Foundation, offered the following tips for parents.

• If your child has a computer, make sure it's in the family room.

• Provide guidelines for children to use during their time online.

• Tell them never to give out personal information online.

• Tell them never to accept gifts offered by anyone online.

• Tell them never to go and see anyone they met online.

• Tell them if someone online suggests something inappropriate, they should tell a parent, teacher or adult authority.

• Tell them never to post photos online.

• Tell them if someone unfamiliar sends them a photo not to believe the subject is who they're told it is.

• For more tips, contact SafeSurfin.org.

Erik Estrada is angry. If it's an act, he's laying it on pretty thick.

He is pitching a movie about online crime, but it's more of a quest for him.

"I got involved in making ['Finding Faith'] because it needs to be seen by young people, grandparents, moms and dads," says the former star of the 1979-1983 TV hit 'CHiPs', his voice rising. "They need to see a true story. It's very informative of what's going on in the Internet."

The film Estrada is pitching, in which he plays a sheriff and which was created by the Virginia-based Safe Surfin' Foundation, will have a free screening at Abba's House on Friday. And he will be on hand.

The actor is the national celebrity spokesman for the organization, whose purpose is to educate the public about Internet crimes involving children.

"Finding Faith" is based on a compilation of actual events that Bedford County, Va., Sheriff Mike Brown has investigated through his Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force.

Estrada, who trained to become a reserve officer for the Muncie, Ind., Police Department, is now a sworn deputy for Bedford County and an ICAC investigator.

He says he had learned about the work Brown was doing, called him from California and offered to do public service announcements. He says Brown replied, "If you're ever in these parts ..."

A short time later, Estrada says, he'd flown east and was promoting the work at 20,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University, both in Lynchburg, Va.

"They took me to a secret cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where [ICAC investigators] do the work," he says. "They were posing as young girls and boys" to lure the predators.

"They showed me the stuff. I was absolutely enraged. After we got out of the house, I got engaged. I said they can have me for nothing. So I do it for nothing. We just need to declare war on online sexual predators."

The film is a full-length motion picture that tells the story of how a family found faith in its battle to find and rescue their 14-year-old daughter, Faith, who accidentally falls victim to an online predator.

The predator, Edwin Doss, is portrayed by Jonathan Phillips, who grew up in Chattanooga and now lives in Virginia. The Ooltewah High School graduate says he put a lot of preliminary work into the role.

"I studied a whole bunch [to get] deep into the character," he says. "I read a lot on true crime, on pedophiles. I talked to a psychologist who deals with predators. I gained about 23 pounds. I didn't take a shower. I listened to music I would never listen to."

Phillips, who also will be present for Friday's screening, says he didn't know anything about the Safe Surfin' Foundation before being signed for the film.

Once he learned, he says, "I jumped right on board," signed with JC Films, which produced "Finding Faith," and is dedicating "my whole life to it now."

Angie McGregor, executive director of communications for Abba's House, says the screening is important.

"Children and teens are at risk every day," she says. "It's important for parents to understand how the world is open to children through their computers and their phones. We believe this film will help parents to be informed, warned and open up dialogue with their children."

Estrada says the film is true to life.

"I wish it could have been more strongly visually graphic," he says. "But we cannot cross the line [for it to remain a family film]. This movie is an eye-opening view of what's going on, the sex trade that's going on, the child abuse that is going on. Child sexual predators will never go away. [The work] has to be done."

Estrada, a star of what he says was the first contemporary Christian movie ever made (1970's "The Cross and the Switchblade"), says the spiritual aspect of "Finding Faith" was no drawback to his participation.

"I figured J.C. (Jesus Christ) has got plans for me," he says. "He brought me back to the stable. If he wants to use me, that's fine, too."

While Estrada continues to promote "Finding Faith," he's got other projects in the works. A movie in which he stars, "Chupacabra vs. the Alamo," is scheduled to debut on the SyFy channel in March. And in July, he'll begin filming the movie "Faith Rocks," in which high school students learn how they can express their religious freedom. (Phillips again plays the antagonist). Eventually, he hopes he can be involved in a film on the threat of drunk driving.

He'll continue to act, he says, "as long as God gives me the strength."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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