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Delta County kidnapping hoax meant to raise awareness for missing, murdered Indigenous relatives

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 8:15 PM EDT
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DELTA COUNTY, Mich. (WLUC) - On Thursday, the Michigan State Police released the identity of the woman arrested Tuesday night related to a kidnapping hoax.

The MSP also confirmed the cause of the group behind the fake crime -- those trying to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. The MSP said it received over 50 calls about a woman who was reportedly picked up by a truck, then tied to a tree somewhere east of US-2 and Delta County Road 511. Michigan State Police Gladstone Post Commander 1st Lt. Gregory Cunningham said things started to get confusing when officers began taking witness testimony.

“It was after our initial response when troopers and deputies got there and started asking questions when there were discrepancies noted in each interview with the witnesses and the victim,” 1st. Lt. Cunningham said.

The MSP arrested Kathleen Wiley of Tahlequah, Oklahoma in connection with the kidnapping hoax. Wiley is currently being held in Delta County Jail on a $150,000 cash or surety bond.

Wiley was not the woman found tied up in Delta County. However, she does face charges of unlawful imprisonment and assault and battery in connection with the hoax. The MSP said Wiley is part of an out-of-state group that reported a number of false kidnappings to officers, which the State Police took as seriously as any real crime.

“We responded appropriately and with as much manpower and resources as we could to try to investigate it, solve it, get a handle on it and hopefully catch that person as quickly as we could,” 1st. Lt. Cunningham said.

Stephanie Graef, president of the UP Human Trafficking Task Force, said she does not agree with staging the hoax. Graef did say, however, that she does believe it was rooted in a passion for a very real issue.

“I believe there are some good intentions for those people that really feel deeply passionate about something that they know firsthand,” Graef said. “This is an isolated situation, so rather than us paying attention to what happened, I would ask that we turn the page and look at why this hoax happened.”

Graef said that, according to the US Department of Justice, indigenous women and girls are 10 times more likely to go missing or be murdered, compared to the national average. Graef emphasized the reality of this in Upper Michigan.

“Do people get kidnapped? Do people get tied up to trees? Do people go missing? Are people found captive in a shed with hardly any clothes on in Upper Michigan? Yes, they are,” Graef emphasized. “We need all hands on deck when real instances happen like this where law enforcement could be used to help identify and recover a real victim.”

1st Lt. Cunningham added to Graef’s claim, stating that a fake crime like this kidnapping hoax affects the MSP’s ability to solve actual reports of abduction.

“It is disheartening that these kinds of cases continue to come in that take away from our already strained resources,” 1st. Lt. Cunningham said. “By doing that it really impacts those out there that are really victimized by kidnapping.”

In this case, 1st. Lt. Cunningham said social media posts only added to public confusion.

“On social media, there is all kinds of information posted about what is going on,” 1st. Lt. Cunningham said. “There are allegations and the suspect information is out there.”

The MSP and Graef both want the community to verify any and all information before posting or sharing. Moving forward, Graef said this incident does offer a renewed opportunity to learn about missing Indigenous people.

“It is not necessary to do a hoax,” Graef said. “Let’s just get real about real families who have experienced missing daughters, aunts, uncles and others. There are real people in this community that know this to be true. We are all in this together, so let’s get down to the reality and listen to local families that have experienced this crime.”

Wiley will appear in Delta County District Court on May 26 for a probable cause conference. The MSP said there is currently no word on if others in the group will face criminal charges.

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