REXBURG — It all started with bizarre Facebook messages.
“Hey! U want to go to the temple today and do a few otger (sic) fun things? Please Don’t take this weirdly. This is actually what happened. I hardly know anyone here. So what happened was i (sic) had a prompting to search ‘hannah byu idaho’ on Facebook and also message you. i (sic) dont know whats gonna come from it but that’s what happened.”
Hannah Weaver, a sophomore attending Brigham Young University-Idaho, had no idea who Connor Hammond was. They had never met and she made up a story that she had a boyfriend to decline Hammond’s offer to go out.
“Oh haha. Well maybe it’s another Hannah you’re meant to meet cause I’m dating someone,” Weaver replied.
That was in December. Then, on Sunday, Weaver received a message from Hammond’s account.
“Hey u still have a bf?”
She didn’t reply and days later Weaver says she felt her “blood go cold” upon learning that Hammond had been arrested on one count of rape and four counts of lewd conduct with a minor.
“Why do I recognize that guy?” Weaver thought when she saw the news. “Two seconds later I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! That is the guy that messaged me a couple of months ago and messaged me on Sunday.'”
Hammond, 21, was arrested Tuesday and remains locked up in the Madison County Jail on $200,000 bail. Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood asked Magistrate Judge Mark S. Rammell to seal the case so details surrounding the alleged assaults are not publicly available.
Wood did confirm to EastIdahoNews.com Friday that Hammond met the 14-year-old victim through social media and she met with Hammond in person after an exchange of messages.
Shocked by Hammond’s arrest, Weaver posted a message to her Instagram account about the experience. Equally surprising was the massive response from girls who said Hammond messaged them or they knew someone he had contacted. Weaver shared the post to her Facebook page and as of Friday, it had gone viral with over 70 young women shared similar stories of a Connor Hammond attempting to talk with them.
Contacting strangers on social media is not illegal and there is no evidence that Hammond broke any laws in what he wrote to young women in messages viewed by EastIdahoNews.com.
Weaver says even though the messages may appear innocent, she is sharing her experience to warn other girls about the dangers of social media.
“At any point you feel the person is creepy or feel uncomfortable, block that person,” Denise DeRosa, an online safety expert and founder of Cyber Sensible, tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Be cautious about who you are accepting a friend request from and who you are opening yourself up to.”
DeRosa says sometimes girls want to seem nice and friendly when somebody starts messaging them, but everyone should use caution in communicating with strangers and contact law enforcement if you feel you are being harassed.
Ellie Perkins, a sophomore at BYU-Idaho, says she started receiving messages from Hammond last week. She went out with him after he messaged her saying he saw her playing the ukulele and wanted her to teach him how to play the piano while he sang hymns. Perkins says something seemed a little off and when they got together, Hammond began to make her feel uncomfortable.
“When we got to the practice room, I sat at the piano and asked him what he wanted me to play. Then he looked at me and said ‘What do you mean?’ And I was like, ‘That is why you invited me, isn’t it?’ Perkins recalls. “Right then I knew that he was bad news and was planning to leave as early as possible.”
Perkins says Hammond “got super close” to her and she thought he would try to kiss her.
“It was so gross and uncomfortable. I dodged him and after I finished the song, I said that I had to leave to finish homework. I got out of there as fast as I could,” Perkins says.
Dozens of young women who say they were contacted by Hammond posted screen shots of their conversations under Weaver’s Facebook post:
“hey! i just wanted to let u know that the reason i sent u a friend request was not random. when i saw your name i had the warmest feeling inside that i needed to talk to u. idk whats gonna come from it but i know the holy ghost told me too. back in june of this year i got ina car crash that involved 2 semi trucks and my car caught on fire and i had 5 times were i shoudlve died and the only thing left that wasnt burnt was a temple pamphlet of the salt lake temple and i noticed thats your cover photo. ill show u photos sometime. i know i have a purpose and there is a reason i am here. please do not take this as creepy or weird. i was kinda hesitant.”
“fiancé broke up with me today because someone lied to her and told her i cheated on her when i didnt and she blocked me on everything and she is gonna tell all my friends and parents about me. she made fake screenshots. She told me she’d fix it if i sent her money so i did and she didn’t fix it and ran off with it. i need a friend.”
BYU-Idaho did not respond to a request for comment but the university’s online directory no longer lists Hammond as a student. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 12 at the Madison County Courthouse.
Weaver is still shocked from the events of the past few days and hopes speaking out will help other young women in similar situations. Her post had been shared on Facebook over 1,100 times as of Friday afternoon with nearly 1,000 comments.
“A lot of times the (guys) will make you think you owe them a first date, an explanation, and you don’t owe them anything,” Weaver says.