Katie Sorensen is a momfluencer, a specific type of influencer who monetizes her identity as a mother and creates content about it for social media. But recent content has landed her on the wrong side of the law: She was recently found guilty of falsely claiming that a couple tried to kidnap her children from the parking lot of a Michaels craft supply store. .
Sorensen, 31, is from Petaluma, California. On December 7, 2020, she was out shopping when she noticed two people in the store watching her two children, ages 4 and 1. She then called the police report an attempted child abduction; they investigated and found no basis for the allegation, so Sorensen took to social media.
“My children were the targets of an attempted kidnapping,” she announced in a two-part video on Instagram.
The video garnered over 4 million views, leading to an interview with KTVU. Sorensen claimed the couple stood behind her in the queue even though they weren’t buying anything. In the parking lot, they took two steps toward her, then two steps back.
“There’s no other explanation as to why they were doing this other than that they were just building up courage,” she said.
Sorensen added so many new details during the video and TV interview — including that the man had actually tried to grab his stroller — that cops opened a new investigation a week after the incident.
This time, they asked Sorensen to review security camera footage, and she identified Sadie Vega-Martinez and her husband Eddie Martinez as the potential perpetrators.
The Martinezes are parents of five children. Eddie is a UPS delivery man, and Sadie makes balloon displays for birthdays. They had come to Michaels to buy a crib.
But when the police released a screenshot of them and that too went viral, one of the Martinez kids saw it on her phone and asked her parents, “Is that you? “
Police spoke to the Martinezes and found no evidence of a kidnapping pattern. But even so, the Martinezes spent the next two and a half years living under a cloud of suspicion.
“We were forever labeled as child abusers,” Sadie Vega-Martinez testified at trial.
After deliberating for several hours, a jury found Sorensen guilty on one count of filing a false police report last month. She was taken away in handcuffs and faces up to six months in prison, ending a heart-pounding false story of near-miss child abduction.
Unfortunately, these stories grow like weeds on social networks. At the height of this particular urban myth, circa 2017, I kept a folder of examples sent to me by readers. The details were often similar: Mom felt someone was watching the children; she couldn’t explain why the stranger was so suspicious, but something was wrong; the stranger appeared behind the mother queuing at the counter; and there would be some kind of white van waiting outside. Social media users were flooding these posts with congratulatory comments, celebrating the mother’s amazing ability to spot and evade kidnappers.
In reality, the thing people worry about – strangers kidnapping their young children – almost never happens.
“Nobody abducts children between the ages of 1 and 4 for sex trafficking,” says David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
When minors disappear, it is almost always because they have run away from home or because they are involved in a custody dispute. The overwhelming majority of kidnappings are perpetrated by family members, not strangers at the mall, grocery store, or movie theater.
Greater awareness of these facts could help deflate viral stories like Sorensen’s and save moms everywhere a lot of heartache.