David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

True face of an online predator

Natalia Burgess sent messages saying shee intended to commit suicide. Photo / Jason Dorday
Natalia Burgess sent messages saying shee intended to commit suicide. Photo / Jason Dorday

The woman who preyed on teenage boys explains to David Fisher the motive behind her internet deceptions.

Natalia Burgess does exist. The woman dubbed the Facebook Predator has finally emerged from the internet to explain why she pretended to be so many other women online.

Burgess, 27, spoke about why she thought it was okay to have romantic relationships with teenage boys using false personas.

In the interview, she also revealed she had mental health problems and had not been taking her medication.

We urged her to seek help. A day-and-a-half later, Burgess tried to take her own life.

Two hours after being admitted to Middlemore Hospital's emergency department, Burgess sent a Facebook message to the Herald on Sunday informing us of her suicide attempt.

She updated us on her progress through the mental health system last week, using a cellphone with internet access from inside Middlemore's acute mental health unit, Tiaho Mai.

On Thursday, she sent more messages saying she intended to try committing suicide again. We urged her again to seek help and stopped engaging her online. We rang medical staff to alert them to her intention. On Friday, contact ceased. Her cellphone had been removed.

Burgess is finally offline and getting the help she needs.

There will be little sympathy online. A Facebook group established for victims of Burgess has turned into an online lynch mob, baying for blood.

The Facebookers discovered last week that victims of her scams had attempted suicide after learning their "friends" - Burgess' fake Facebook profiles - had killed themselves.

In reality, these friends never existed. They were born online; they died online. But Burgess' victims didn't know this.

One lovelorn youth ended his own life. His family blames Burgess.

The online message sent by Burgess from the Middlemore Hospital emergency department at 3.30am on Monday invited us to "do a blame story" on the dead man's family for "what they done to me".

The day before she tried to take her life, Burgess met the Herald on Sunday near her South Auckland home. She brought with her the mobile phone she uses to update Facebook. She has no computer and uses her phone to stay online constantly. "It's my best friend," she said of the phone. "It's my only friend at the moment."

Burgess said there were no more "fakes", as she calls the false online personas. She "killed off" her last online persona on March 20. "I got sick of it. I got sick of trying to keep together everyone's little secrets."

The "secrets" reveal the impact of Burgess' betrayal on the hundreds of outraged people online. As social media "friends", teenagers seem less concerned about privacy. We have spoken to victims who say they told Burgess "things I've never even told my mum".

Burgess said she learned "things that are so damned horrible" from people who trusted her with their secrets.

She claimed to still be in touch with some victims. One 17-year-old teenager made contact with her months after she "killed off" his online girlfriend of eight months. "I blamed him for Abby's death."

The devastated teen learned "Abby" was fake only when he read media coverage. He then contacted Natalia online and a new relationship developed. "I told him not to talk to me. I told him to go away," she said. The teenager didn't listen - he was desperate to salvage the emotional investment he had in "Abby".

"I think he wants to make sure the last eight months of his life with Abby were worth something."

Asked about romance, she sighed deeply. "There's no future," she said, starry-eyed. "We're just friends."

Did the 10-year age difference bother her? "It's not 10 years. Not when you say you're 18," she replied.

The "fakes" she created were teenagers. In her mind, she was a teenager when she was role-playing.

"When I create these people I am these people. I was so caught up in my world that the real world around me didn't exist."

Burgess said she backed up her false online personas with about 10 SIM cards, giving each fake personality her own phone number.

The online personas were supported by phone and text conversations. It was hard to keep it straight, she said. "I've stuffed up so many times."

Burgess said her online behaviour was spurred by "borderline personality disorder".

"You can tell when I'm not on my medication."

Burgess said she began living other lives online about 10 years ago with internet Relay Chat. Originally, she did not use false identities but hid behind noms-de-plume. As technology became more sophisticated, so did her use of it.

The only interruption to her online life was prison, she said. She had worked as a teenage prostitute, used drugs and even been confronted in court with her use of other people's identities.

A judge told her to stop in 2007. "I laughed at him."

She expected the law to visit again. Two officers visited her home this month to tell her she was a "known sex offender" who police were monitoring. The visit stemmed from a 15-year-old boy she met online and had sex with in 2006.

"There are probably thousands of laws I've broken. Until I get charged, that's all they are - nasty, vicious rumours."

- Herald on Sunday

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