The Kara Alongi Kidnapping Hoax
On September 30th, 2012 the account @Karaalongi13 sent an ominous- petrifying message into the Twittersphere. It said, "There is someone in my house, call 911." This is the bizarre kidnapping of Kara Alongi, something that would change the relationship of law enforcement and Twitter…forever.
Kara’s tweet sparked almost immediate attention, discussed and retweeted over 32,000 times. It also evolved into a hashtag, #HelpFindKara, that was retweeted over 34,000 times. Twitter was panicked by the tweet, hoping they could figure out the missing Kara’s whereabouts and make sure she was okay. But soon the concern transcended social media. The tweet prompted over 6 thousand calls to 911, hoping to begin an investigation into Kara’s disappearance. Soon, news media outlets picked up the story- and the nation looked to the tweets origin- Clark New Jersey- for answers and leadership into the investigation of the person the nation now knew as Kara Alongi, a 16 year old who desperately needed help.
Nobody was more stunned or overwhelmed than the small police department of Clark New Jersey. Clark Police Chief Alan Scherb said that had it not been for Twitter, his department would have handled this like any other missing juvenile case — a serious but common problem. But with the attention, the small department felt immense pressure to find the missing teen.
Soon, Clark investigators discovered that someone called for a taxi at Alongi's address at around the same time her twitter message was posted. Hours afer that, after, police gained surveillance footage of Alongi at the local Rahway train station, carrying a backpack and a large purse. Police, working with the new Jersey Transit authority, reviewed surveillance video and discovered Alongi purchased a train ticket to New York Penn Station Sunday evening. At that point, They released a photo of the teen to the public, which only fed the fire of concern and panic.
Meanwhile- and expectedly- Alongi’s family and friends were themselves worried and puzzled over her cryptic tweet.
"You can't say anything bad about this girl," said her grandfather Mike Virchick, who spoke in a media broadcast at the Rahway Train stationwhere Alongi was last seen.He was there posting fliers with Alongi's picture, hoping that someone would recognize the photo that was taken at the train station, and come forward with information.
I think you probably aren't surprised by this next bit of information…but, after a day of being missing, Kara’s had gained 94 thousand twitter followers.
Investigators pieced together that Alongi likely called a taxi company herself and gotten a ride to the Rahway train station. Still not believing any foul play was involved, the Clark Police department became at odds with the public who was sure she was kidnapped.
"Kara might feel that she will be in trouble if she comes home after this scare and causing a panic," Clark Police Chief Alan Scherb said as the extensive search continued. "At this point, all everyone cares about is seeing her safe and at her house where she belongs."
Worldwide Twitter accounts tweeted messages of good will @KaraAlongi. But then, another post appears on her account, and immediately gets deleted. It says: "Why is everyone saying I'm missing? I was jkin haha" then, the tweet was almost immediately deleted.
Two days after her disappearance, police found Alongi at a rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike while she was on the phone with a 911 operator. They quickly released parts of the 911 call to media, who themselves soured on the riveting story of the missing teen:
In the longer version of the call, Alongi told a 911 operator that she was placed in a taxi cab by someone she described as a 28-year-old black man who entered her house.
"A few days ago I was inside and some guy came and made me go. ... I was in my house and some guy came in and told me that I had to do all this stuff. I don't know his name, but he was black and he said he was, like, 28,"
The operator asked Alongi to explain how she was forced out of her home.
"He told me I had to go into a cab and I had to meet someone, but I don't remember where I was," Alongi said the cab took her to the train station and her abductor told her to get on a bus, but she didn't know whether the man got on the bus after her.
"There was a cab at my house and I went in and then I went into the train station and then I don't remember where I was. ... And I woke up today in, I don't know, somewhere, it was like the country. … And now I'm here," she said.
Staying on the line with the 911 operator, a New Jersey State Trooper arrived at a nearby Burger King to pick up Alongi, who was fine and completely unharmed.
Police didn’t completely believe she was lying at this point, but they did think she went to the train station alone.
Back at home, Alongi told friends, family, police and journalists her story. She said a man had come into her home and forced her to pack a bag and leave. She also claimed she had no memory of the following 46 hours and that she woke up in a house surrounded by three men, including her alleged abductor.
A nine-month investigation ensued, and this is where Alongi’s public support started eroding. The investigation concluded that The teen spent time in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, and that she acted completely on her own.
"This was a calculated act," stated Union County Assistant Prosecutor Susan J. Gleason. "And the response to this false alarm represented countless man-hours on the part of investigators."
Alongi was charged with creating a false public alarm and a fourth-degree charge of making false reports to law enforcement authorities, and plead guilty to both charges.
Under a plea agreement, Alongi- who was still a minor, which was a very good thing, or she would’ve definitely gotten a more harsh penalty- was placed on probation for 12 months, had her driver’s license suspended for six months and have to complete 40 hours of community service- 20 hours of community service at the Police Department and 20 hours at the city fire department to understand the challenges faced by law enforcement when false reports are made. She also had to pay $2,000 in restitution.
She was also…permanently suspended from Twitter.