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Monday, April 17, 2006

Authorities Say Missing Teen's Kidnapping Story Was A Hoax

Taken from KCTV 5
Associated Press Writer
(AP) -- A popular 16-year-old girl's harrowing tale of being abducted at gunpoint from her family's driveway was a lie, authorities said Thursday, declining to say why the girl perpetrated the hoax.

The police and FBI said Kelsey Stelting acknowledged Thursday morning that the abduction "did not happen" and that she spent more than 16 hours alone in an area southwest of Independence.

Her disappearance prompted an Amber Alert, with the FBI bringing in 30 agents to join police and county officers in the search. Friends and family, meanwhile, papered the town with thousands of posters and fliers with her picture, and at least two churches held prayer vigils for her.

But police Chief Lee Bynum and FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza said investigators never obtained any physical evidence to corroborate the girl's story, despite her frantic-sounding 911 call early Tuesday morning. Authorities never released a detailed description or drawing of the white male who the girl claimed kidnapped her, nor did they ever find the white van in which she supposedly had been kept.

When she reappeared Tuesday night at the front door of a two-story brick home less than a mile away from her own home, she told the occupants she clobbered her assailant with a glass in nearby woods and ran away.

Authorities acknowledged having suspicions early on that the girl's story was false, and Bynum said that by the time Stelting acknowledged lying, "It was not a surprise to me."

Said Lanza: "Pretty early on, things weren't adding up in terms of her story. If you have not one minor, even minor, small piece of evidence that corroborates a story, then you have a problem with the story. And we couldn't find anything at all that corroborated her story."

Bynum said police would turn over reports to the county's juvenile prosecutor late next week to determine whether charges would be filed. Lanza said he didn't foresee any federal charges.
In state court, she could be charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. An adult charged with that crime would face a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

Authorities would not say what motivated the girl.

"That's between her, her family," Bynum said. "You're asking us to make medical terminology that I'm not even going to touch at this point."

The family did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, but a family spokesman read a brief statement during a news conference.

"Given her state of mind Kelsey didn't realize the consequences of her actions, which she wholeheartedly regrets," Tim Valentine told reporters. "We've all made mistakes, and Kelsey just happened to make hers under the glare of the spotlight."

Valentine declined to answer questions after the statement.

On Wednesday, police released an audio file and transcript of the 911 call the teenager made.
In it, she said a man with a gun had approached her from behind in the driveway of her home about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, forced her to run several blocks as he followed, then forced her into a white van sitting in front of a lumber yard.

"To me it sounded like there was distress there as well, and that was the initial indication that she had been kidnapped, besides just the call itself -- the tone of her voice," Lanza said. "Sometimes tones can fool you, and I guess that was the case here."

Bynum, noting Stelting is an athlete, said Thursday that the girl jogged to an area southwest of town, where she made the 911 call, then stayed there.

Neighbor Richard Basham said the girl had embarrassed the small southeast Kansas town.

"It destroys the trust in a small community. It just deteriorates a small town's integrity," he said. "She has to take responsibility for what she did. She hurt the community. "I don't feel sympathy. She really cheated the community."

Lanza and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius both said they did not think the case would hurt the Amber Alert system.

"I think people are always going to pay attention to Amber Alerts because they know that most of them involve an actual abduction, or a good percentage of them do," Lanza said. "People always pay attention to that, especially when you have a child of tender years, and that's what it's geared for."

In Topeka, Sebelius said in an interview that the Independence case wouldn't hurt the Amber Alert system "any more than a prank call diminishes 911."

Friends and acquaintances had described the girl as bright, a good student who is involved in activities such as softball, cheerleading, dance squad and student government. They said they didn't see signs of trouble at home or school or anything to cause them to doubt that she'd been abducted.

"Every single one of us will tell you that Kelsey's a very forthright young woman," Stelting's mother, Kelly Cox, said Wednesday. "If you listen to that 911 call, and I think if you're a mom or a dad, I think you hear in her voice the trauma, that she is afraid."

------Associated Press Writer Roxana Hegeman in Independence contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.


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