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Teen who launched Internet virus mostly kept to himself

Hopkins, Minn. — (AP) - Neighbors of 18-year-old Jeffrey Lee Parson say the high school student in federal custody for launching a worldwide computer virus was a loner who drove too fast and idolized Bill Gates.

"He's just got one kid he hangs with typically," said Curtis Mackey, 33, who has lived down the street from Parson's apartment for about seven years with his wife and two sons.

"He speeds up our street and it really ticks me off," says Mackey, a real estate appraiser and volunteer firefighter.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Parson nearly always wears baggy jeans with T-shirts and sports constantly changing hair cuts and colors. Last time Mackey saw him, he had long, blond hair and spikes on the top.

He never saw Parson with a computer and was surprised he'd developed a computer virus.

"I didn't think he had the smarts for it myself," he said, adding, "The profile kind of fits. He kind of liked to be alone a lot."

A man who has known the family for several years said Parson was taking college-level classes because he had learned as much as he could at high school. The man, who spoke only on condition that his name not be used, said Parson had no other hobbies besides computers, and idolized Bill Gates.

"That's his life. That's what he lives for. I just hope they don't take it away from him," the man said.

The teenager, who was starting his senior year at Hopkins High School, told the FBI he built into his version of the Blaster worm that first struck two days earlier a method for reconnecting to victim computers later, according to court papers. Infected computers automatically registered themselves with Parson's Web site so he could keep track of them.

Parson operated the Web site, according to Internet registration records.

The Web site appeared Friday not to have any content on it but previously contained software code for at least one virus and a listing of the most-damaging viruses circulating on the Internet.

Neighbor Bill McKittrick called Parson "a computer genius."

"He's smart on the computer, but I cannot believe he was doing any hacking," he said.

Investigators, however, weren't as impressed with Parson's computer prowess.

Hours after Parson's arrest, professional virus-hunters across the Internet were slapping their foreheads in frustration that nobody figured out the clues earlier.

"It's kind of embarrassingly simple," said Nick Fitzgerald of New Zealand, a widely recognized expert and contributing editor to the Virus Bulletin newsletter. "I guess we should praise the Lord for stupid people, right?"

Next-door neighbor Rick Peterson said he and his family were grilling a week ago Tuesday when about 30 federal agents swooped down on Parson's apartment and seized seven computers. They forced Peterson's family into their garage.

As Parson awaited his first court appearance Friday, a red curtain was drawn across a window at the family's apartment and no one answered the door. Callers were greeted only by a black cat silhouetted in the window.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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