Local News

Abduction Hoax Mocked Police Duty to Do All They Can

Posted March 12, 2007

— When Durham police thought 15-year-old Natalie Fernandez was in danger last Friday, they pulled out all the stops.

“We diverted some of our people from Special Ops. We called in the Gang Unit. We diverted officers on uniform patrol and pulled them off calls where they could've assisted other citizens,” Cpl. David Addison, a police department spokesman, said Monday.

It turned out to be a hoax, concocted by others so her parents would not know she was with her boyfriend. Police say they have no choice but to take every case like this seriously, however. Hindsight of one hoax does not mean they can ease off the next time an abduction is reported.

The department spent hours gathering the information needed to justify issuance of a statewide Amber Alert after Fernandez was reportedly taken at gunpoint when she got off her school bus shortly after 3 p.m. The state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety issued it shortly after 6 p.m.

About two hours later, though, investigators were able to figure out that Fernandez had not been kidnapped. They canceled the alert, and several people, including Fernandez, now face charges.

Addison says the response was expensive for the city.

“To get the Amber Alert up and running and to get all the officers here and posters developed— were looking into the thousands of dollars,” he said.

The state's amber alert coordinator called this the most elaborate story she's heard. However, Lois Hogan said at least one other false report has led to an Amber Alert.

The state law that established North Carolina's Amber Alert system does not provide any punishment for those who abuse it.

“So, prosecutors and law enforcement officers have to look at existing criminal statutes” to deal with cases like that of Fernandez, said Jan Paul, an assistant Durham County district attorney.

In this case, Fernandez is charged with obstructing an investigation. Her two sisters and another teen are also charged. However, they face misdemeanors that carry little, if any, jail time.

Paul points out that instead of time behind bars, a judge could force the teens to pay fines and restitution, but, there is a lot to consider.

“Certainly youth tend not to realize what the ramifications and consequences of their actions can be,” Paul said.

The cost of this statewide search may never be recouped.


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  • wakeup Mar 13, 2007

    “Certainly youth tend not to realize what the ramifications and consequences of their actions can be,” Paul assistant Durham County district attorney said.

    They'll NEVER learn until we hold them accountable.

  • Gnathostomata Mar 13, 2007

    the members of the Durham Police Department did a great job; they figured out this was not a real abduction. They set in motion the necessary steps to locate the truth, and that is what they did. They can chalk the money spent as "practice" 'cause next time it may be for real. I feel safer knowing they jumped the right way on this...Kudos, DPD.

  • FragmentFour Mar 13, 2007

    The girl is 15 - her sisters (I beleive) are slightly older. Don't know about the boyfriend. There seem to be two sets of injured people here - her parents (whom she was trying to hide the meeting from) and the police officers who had to postpone a lot of other important things to respond to this fabrication.

    Having part of their sentences be to track down and personally apologize to each and every officer might get the idea through their heads. An open ended community service which has no connection to the hoax seems like a waste of time, too. NC may not have a set punishment for misuse of the Amber Alerts, but a juvenile judge can certainly use some creativity and come up with something meaningful.

  • norwinfischer Mar 13, 2007

    BIG fine ($10,000 sounds about right) and hours and hours of community service (picking up trash and mowing grass) ought to give her a little time to reflect on how dumb this idea was...her boyfriend and his sisters should be right there with her for the whole ordeal too. Fine them each $10,000 and put it straight back into the city coffers for wasting valuable taxpayer money on this hoax. Maybe something good will come of it there.

  • Lit Mar 12, 2007

    "The state law that established North Carolina's Amber Alert system does not provide any punishment for those who abuse it."

    Well you know what, I think its time to amend that law...
    1) For adutls (age 18+), hand them a $10,000 fine
    2) For teens/kids, require them to do 500 hours of community service

    Sounds fair to me...And even if they don't apologize publicly for lying, the media exposure plus the stiff sentences will be enough to make them sorry for lying...

  • Wizard Mar 12, 2007

    Young and Wake, my apologies but you missed my point. I intended no criticism for the police or how they had to respond. I was pointing out how their hands were tied to react in a certain manner and a possible reason for such response. In this case everybody went home so all's well. Till the time when such reoccurs and this time you have a real incident and a hoax. My point is, it's hard to expect a servant to serve with tethered hands. And Young,I'm not standing outside criticizing,I'm inside criticizing and calling it real. Give it some time, you'll see what I mean!

  • Dead On Mar 12, 2007


    You are completely wrong. The police DID do interviews, however, when you are dealing with non-english speakers, it is very difficult to do. Rest assured, the members of the Durham Police Department did quite a bit more than what is being reported. It was a very extensive investigation from the start. When the call came out, you really do not have time to sort lies from the truth; you treat the information as the truth, until proven otherwise. Just like in this case. Was it a waste; yeah, but what if they did not treat it as the real thing...you would be calling for the police heads to roll.

  • wakeresident Mar 12, 2007

    When you have a child supposedly kidnapped at gunpoint, you start looking while dotting the i's and crossing the t's. They found out pretty quickly (overall) that this was a hoax. I'm glad to know that they immediately started looking. You hear that they accuse the family first (since it's usually them), but I'm happy that if something really did happen, they'd start looking immediately, and then try to find out if it were for real.

  • Buddha Mar 12, 2007

    I just want to say thank you to this girl for wasting taxpayers money by lying about being kidnapped just so she could see her boyfriend....Good job....

  • youngncleo Mar 12, 2007

    Wizard, you couldn't be more wrong about the police in this situation, but I suppose it's easy to stand on the outside and judge, especially when you know nothing about what goes into an investigation or the requirements to issue an amber alert. Hours of work went into investigating the situation before the alert was issued. Unfortunately, in a potentially dangerous situation like this, the police don't have days to investigate. Imagine th e consequences if they had waited even 24 hours and the situation had been real. Of course, in that event, I imagine you would still be on here criticizing them for not acting quickly enough.