IU student who faked, recanted abduction story could face penalties

IUPD will not press charges; Nashville, Ill., police department may

An 18-year-old IU student who reported and later recanted an abduction could face jail time and fines for false reporting and obstructing justice.

The student reported she had been abducted at gunpoint outside Teter quad Sunday afternoon and then was forced to drive to Nashville, Ill., where she escaped her attacker. When the IU Police Department interviewed the student Tuesday, she admitted the story was false.

The woman could face charges of falsifying a police report and obstruction of justice in Illinois, once the Nashville Police Department receives IUPD files on the case, said Nashville Police Department Sheriff Shane Phillips. IUPD Lieutenant Jerry Minger said no charges will be brought against the student in Indiana.

Thursday a Georgia woman, Jennifer Wilbanks, said she had been kidnapped in Atlanta because of cold-feet before her wedding. Wilbanks could be sued for the $60,000 it cost to search for her as well as other fines and could possibly face a jail sentence.

Minger said he deals with several false cases a year.

"It does happen throughout the school year several times," he said. "But then I suspect there are several times where we can't prove it that they've been false informing ... We have to err on the side that the person is telling the truth, assuming it is valid information we are getting. At some point if the evidence doesn't match what we're being told we might investigate it further."

The student told police a man had been hiding in her car with a gun and told her to drive. When she stopped for gas at another town, she said the man got out of the car and she drove to Nashville, Ill., where she contacted local police from a convenience store. She stayed in Nashville for about three hours, Phillips said. Her mother came to get her after a crime scene technician processed the student's car.

Minger interviewed the IU student with her mother and brother Tuesday morning in Bloomington after she had given her initial report to the Nashville police.

Minger said the police had few leads and wanted to ask the student about the specifics of her abduction. She left that interview saying the story was true, but returned to recant the story 45 minutes later.

"I guess she just wanted to tell the truth," Minger said. "In this instance the reason why she lied was much more immaterial because it didn't involve more than a mild inconvenience for the IUPD."

Minger said the IU student could not relate to IUPD why she had lied. She was given information for IU Counseling and Psychological Services, according to a press release.

Director of CAPS Nancy Stockton said counselors focus on stress management and recognizing signs of stress early for students dealing with similar issues.

"They think impulsively that if they can concoct some story that portrays them as a victim who can't be responsible for their difficulties, that that is their way out," Stockton said. "But I think most generally it's a question of anxiety, stress, feelings of desperation, creating a kind of tunnel vision in which they are able to latch onto only one way out of their difficulties."

Stockton said sometimes their judgement gets clouded and they are unable to think rationally.

"The stress and anxiety can interfere with their ability to consider alternatives, to foresee consequences (and) even to realize that (what) they concoct very often is illegal, that they are violating laws," she said.

If brought to trial in Illinois and found guilty, the IU student's sentence could include one to three years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines for the charge of obstructing justice. She could also be sentenced to less than one year in the county jail and up to a $2,500 fine for falsifying a police report, Phillips said.

-- Contact Senior Writer Joelle Petrus at jpetrus@indiana.edu.

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