Mom influencer Katie Sorensen, who ran the (recently deactivated) Instagram account @MotherhoodEssentials, went viral last week after posting two videos on her page detailing an alleged attempting kidnapping at a Michaels Craft Store in Petaluma, CA, BuzzFeed reports.
“My kids were the target of an attempted kidnap,” she said, speaking directly to camera, describing bringing her four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter in a double stroller to a store. Sorensen claims a Latinx couple followed her into the store; she said she noticed the man looked at her in the parking lot. She told local Fox News outlet KTVU that she heard them “talking about the features of my children,” to someone on the phone. “But I was totally paralyzed with fear,” she said. “I saw these people, they didn’t look necessarily clean-cut. I felt uncomfortable around them, and instead of making them uncomfortable with my discomfort, I chose to remain in my discomfort.”
Though the original videos have been deleted, along with Sorensen’s Instagram page, the weird story attracted an audience. After posting, her page grew from a scant 6,000 followers, according to Social Blade, to an audience of over 80,000 followers. Her videos had been viewed over two million times.
Though the couple Sorensen described did exist, her story didn’t appear to hold up. Petaluma police located the couple and found that “inconsistencies between the two accounts of the incident need[ed] to be resolved before criminal charges can be considered,” investigators told BuzzFeed. On Thursday night, police officially reported that they found no evidence a crime was committed.
Though the names of the couple involved have not been made public, their photo was released by police and has already been making rounds of “#savethechildren” child trafficking conspiracy theory page. A family member of the couple told BuzzFeed they were victims of racist profiling. “Somewhere in her mind she sincerely misconstrued this ‘brown’ couple innocently shopping at a craft store and discussing their own grandchildren as activity that was somehow threatening to her family,” the family member said.
Petaluma Police also released a statement saying that Sorensen included details of the incident in her viral videos that she did not include in her initial police report that could constitute a crime: specifically, that the man in the couple approached her children’s stroller and reached for it in the parking lot. “To date, the investigation has produced no evidence or witnesses corroborating the account provided by the reporting party,” a police statement read. “Evidence gathered has served to support the account provided by the couple from the store.”
In the last few years, the proliferation of deluded conspiracy theories like QAnon have exacerbated fears of child trafficking, especially among white families unaware that the majority of human trafficking victims are children of color, and those in poverty. Very rarely are kids grabbed from public places, such as a Michael’s. As BuzzFeed points out, advocacy group Polaris found that less than 10% of all child trafficking occurs in such situations; while they do exist, they are not the dominate manner in which children are abducted.
But hey, maybe Sorensen was just pulling a Cindy McCain or Donald Trump and lying about thwarting (or in this case, bypassing) a human trafficking attempt for the good press? I look forward to her future as a right-wing influencer; she’s well on her way.