ST. PETERSBURG — The woman could tell her daughter was hiding something.
It was the middle of the night, and the 11-year-old was still awake. She was hiding her cellphone under the covers.
The 47-year-old told her middle schooler to hand over the device— which she discovered was filled with Facebook messages from an adult man.
The mother, who is not being named to protect her daughter's identity, had forbade her daughter from creating any social media accounts. The next day she called the man — who authorities identified as 23-year-old Michael Bradley of St. Petersburg — and threatened to report him to police.
Bradley claimed a younger brother had contacted the girl, the mother said.
But after the conversation, the texts from the man with the full beard kept coming.
So the mother played along, pretending to be the girl, who just completed sixth grade.
Bradley texted that he wanted to meet the girl at Walmart. He wanted to know if the girl was a virgin. He told her he loved her. He said he wanted to give her a baby.
The mother, appalled, called police May 28. But detectives felt like the messages didn't reach a level that would allow for prosecution, officials said.
Just days later, the mother said she got the evidence she — and police —needed.
On June 2, police said, Bradley wrote that he wanted a picture.
"You first," the mother texted back.
Bradley sent six pictures of his penis, police said.
The mother replied with a photo she snapped of a child posing in a Target newspaper ad. Then she turned everything over to police.
Police spokesman Mike Puetz said Bradley admitted to detectives that he sent the messages and pictures. "He claimed that all he was attempting to do was scare the girl off," Puetz said.
He was arrested Friday on multiple counts of obscenity and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. He was still in the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday in lieu of $65,000 bail.
Police commended the girls mother for monitoring her daughter's activities so closely, but stopped short of completely endorsing her actions. Puetz said in this situation everything worked out, but that police don't want everyone thinking they should go out and try their own undercover operations.
The girl's mother said the experience has left her shaken. She said she discussed it with her daughter and told her she can't have a phone "until she's old enough to get a job and pay for it herself."
She said she hopes other parents will learn from this.
"I'm just glad I caught it in time," the mother said. "All the things he sent me. I know her brain wouldn't have even been able to handle that."