PITTSBURGH (AP) — A South Carolina man has been charged with harassing a Pittsburgh area woman by sending prank messages to restaurants over their online food-ordering systems, claiming she was being held hostage at her home and needed help.
In another prank message, Nathaniel Dunlap, 28, pretended to be a missing college student who was the subject of a police search, claimed he was being held in the woman’s basement and requested police be sent, according to a federal indictment unsealed Friday.
Dunlap lived in a Pittsburgh suburb before moving to Clover, where the messages were sent from, prosecutors said.
He pleaded not guilty Friday in federal court to cyberstalking and aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors did not say why Dunlap allegedly targeted the woman, who is identified only by her initials in the indictment. Court documents also did not state how police responded to each of the hostage messages.
In December and January, Dunlap sent the same message to two different Pittsburgh pizzerias.
“My husband is holding me against my will. He has a gun and is threatening to kill me. I can’t call and am trying to get help,” the message said. It ended by requesting help be sent to the woman’s address, the indictment said.
On Feb. 22, Dunlap sent a message claiming to be missing Duquesne University graduate student Dakota James, who later was found dead in a river.
The message said, “I was kidnapped several weeks ago on the North Side. I found access to the internet inside the house I am being held at,” then listed the woman’s address. “I am being held inside the basement of this home. I need you to call 911 and send police. Dakota James.”
James, 23, went missing after leaving a bar in January. His family led a highly publicized search for him before his body was found floating in the Ohio River on March 6.
Police quickly discounted the message sent to Tooties Famous Italian Beef in Pittsburgh as a cruel prank. The U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service joined Shaler Township police in the investigation.
Nobody has been charged in James’ death, and a medical examiner has listed the cause and manner of death as undetermined pending ongoing toxicology tests.
Cyberstalking carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Aggravated identity theft carries an automatic two-year prison sentence that must run consecutively to any other sentence he receives in the case.
Dunlap’s attorney declined to comment.
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