A fellow passenger spotted the texts and reported Michael Kellar to authorities

By Steve Helling
February 20, 2020 04:18 PM
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Credit: San Jose Police Department/AP/Shutterstock

A Washington man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sex abuse crimes after a fellow passenger on an airplane saw his texts about molesting children and reported him to authorities.

Michael Kellar, 58, was on a plane on July 31, 2017 when he sent texts to his girlfriend talking about molesting two kids. According to the criminal complaint obtained by PEOPLE, a female passenger spotted the texts and alerted the fight crew. The crew arranged for law enforcement to meet the plane at the gate.

Kellar was arrested when the plane landed. He was charged in federal court with conspiracy to produce child pornography.

Upon his arrest, police confiscated Kellar’s phone. According to the complaint, authorities found hundreds of text messages in which Kellar talked with his girlfriend about molesting two children she babysat. In the texts, Kellar and 52-year-old Gail Lynn Burnworth discuss the plan to drug, sexually assault and film the two children, ages 5 and 7.

Investigators found that the couple had produced and shared several hundred sexually explicit images of children.

Burnworth was also arrested on charges of conspiracy to produce child pornography. PEOPLE confirms that she pleaded guilty to the charge in September. She will be sentenced next month.

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According to CBS News, the judge in the case strongly condemned Kellar during the sentencing hearing. “This case for me has been the most disturbing case that I have had,” said U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton, according to CBS. “[These offenses] beset on society a waterfall of negative repercussions that can never be repaired.”

Prosecuting attorney Brian T. Moran praised the woman who turned Kellar in.

“I commend the airline passenger who spoke up about the disturbing texts she witnessed on her flight,” Moran told reporters, according to CBS. “In this case, that witness triggered the rescue of two small children and the investigation that revealed this defendant to be a predator — collecting images of child sexual abuse.”

PEOPLE confirms that Kellar was sentenced in the U.S. District Court to 15 years in prison.