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California police investigate if ‘mom influencer’ made false kidnap report on Latino couple

Police in California are investigating whether a woman made a false report when she told officers that a couple tried to kidnap her two young children in the parking lot of a Michaels craft store in Petaluma.

The police department said its investigation of the Dec. 7 incident found that evidence supports the couple’s version of events.

During a press conference Friday, the couple, who are Latino, denied the allegations against them, according to the Argus-Courier.

Police said that a woman told officers that a couple followed her into Michaels just before 10:30 a.m. and trailed her as she shopped with her children in a stroller.

She said that the couple “made comments concerning the appearance of the children,” according to a police department press release.

“The couple was said to have followed the woman to her car, where the couple lingered near the stroller as the woman placed her children in the vehicle,” it stated. They got in their car and drove away after someone nearby intervened.

The release did not name the woman who made the report, but numerous outlets have identified her as Katie Sorensen, a “mom influencer” on social media.

Calls Tuesday to the Petaluma Police Department and to numbers listed for Sorensen were not immediately returned.

A week after the incident was reported, police said it learned that the woman had made a social media video about what happened and included “significant information” that she had not shared with officers.

The video has since been deleted from her account but was re-posted online.

In it, Sorensen said that her two children were the targets of attempted kidnapping and she felt the need “to get this information out there.”

She then went on to describe how she noticed a man park near her car at the back of the Michaels parking lot. Sorensen, who is sitting in her car as she filmed the video, said that the man walked toward her as she was putting her children in a double-stroller, “looks for a while” and then gets back into his car.

She said she continued putting her son and daughter in the stroller and walked into the store. She said that the man, now accompanied by a woman, followed her inside.

“I definitely felt the heebie-jeebies,” Sorensen said. “I didn’t feel good, but I thought I was judging a book by its cover. They were not kind, that sounds bad, but they weren’t clean-cut individuals.”

Sorensen said she kept shopping and tried to ignore the couple as they followed her and made comments about what her children looked like. At one point in the video, she said that she was standing in the checkout line and heard the man make a phone call and say, “the boy will be easier because he’s not wearing a mask so the mom must not really care about him that much.”

“I can’t tell you why I didn’t turn around say something right then,” she said. “I was paralyzed with fear. And I almost just discredited what was happening, like I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this was actually happening and so I just, kind of, I ignored it.”

Sorensen said that after she paid for her items, she hurried to her car and called her husband to tell him that someone was following her. She said as she approached her vehicle, she saw a white van parked next to her car and “my stomach just sinks.”

“I’m too afraid to change the direction I’m going,” she said. “I was terrified and I didn’t know what I was doing so I walk straight to my car and I get ready to load my kids in as quickly as possible.”

Sorensen went on to say that the couple walked toward her car and it appeared like the man was holding something in his hand.

“They had taken two steps forward toward the stroller, then two steps back. Then two steps forward, then two steps back. It made no sense. It was obvious what they were doing and that last time he reaches for the stroller,” she said.

Sorensen said she yelled to someone nearby for help and the couple got in their car and drove off. She said another man approached her from behind and “he kind of plays it off, like do you need help with something.” That man then got into the van and left, she said in the video.

Police said that because of the details Sorensen shared in her video, officers initially investigated the incident as an attempted child abduction. The department released a photo of the couple taken from the store’s surveillance camera and asked for the public’s help in identifying them.

Petaluma police later cleared the couple after speaking with them.

“We received information about the identity of the couple and [connected] with them via a private message to their social media. They promptly responded, agreed to be interviewed, and have fully cooperated with the investigation,” police said. “While acknowledging they had shopped at Michael’s and were the couple shown in the photograph, they denied the allegations being made against them by the reporting party.”

“To date, the investigation has produced no evidence or witnesses corroborating the account provided by the reporting party. Evidence gathered has served to support the account provided by the couple from the store,” police continued.

“Based upon the evidence gathered to date, PPD launched an investigation into whether this incident was potentially falsely reported,” police said. “That investigation is active and ongoing.”

The Argus-Courier identified the couple as Sadie and Eddie Martinez. They said they were at Michaels to buy Christmas decorations and believe that Sorensen’s allegations were racially motivated.

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s like we’re literally guilty of being brown while shopping,” Sadie Martinez said at a news conference.

“I don’t know if anyone’s been paying attention the last four years, but there’s been a lot of racism going on and well, Katie’s following suit,” she continued. “Am I shocked? No. But will we stand for it? Hell no. So today, I stand in front of everybody in a fight to prosecute Katie.”

The Petaluma Police Department has not said if they plan on pursuing possible charges against Sorensen. Chief Ken Savano said in a statement Friday that “hate crimes of any type will not be tolerated” and he will seek full prosecution “if evidence of a racially-motivated hate crime is found to have occurred.”

“Additionally, we will also seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, if, at any time during our investigation, we find evidence of a person knowingly and intentionally making a false report of a crime,” he added.

Source:

www.nbcnews.com

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