More than a dozen first responders spent two hours searching for a missing 3-year-old girl in Modesto on Thursday night who turned out to be part of a fabricated story.
A 31-year-old woman called Modesto police from the Safeway shopping center at McHenry and Briggsmore avenues around 7:30 p.m. to report her vehicle had been stolen with her child inside.
Sgt. Kalani Souza said the woman told officers she was checking the air in her tires when someone got in her vehicle and drove away with her child.
He said nearly every officer on patrol responded to the call, detectives from the Investigative Services Division were dispatched and the fire department assisted in the search. An alert to neighboring agencies to be on the lookout was also issued.
The woman’s vehicle was found in the area in the airport neighborhood near Tenaya Drive and Kerr Avenue about 30 minutes after it was initially reported stolen.
There was no car seat in the vehicle, which was the first indication something was amiss.
“The story was not adding up; every time (officers) interviewed her the story kept changing, she kept leaving pieces out,” Souza said.
She provided a photo of a young child, which investigators learned was an old photo. From there they learned that the woman does have a child but she is elementary school aged, not 3.
Eventually, Souza said, the woman’s story fell apart and she admitted there was never a child in the vehicle.
It wasn’t entirely clear why the woman made up the story but mental health issues were a factor, said Lt. Martha Delgado. “There was no motive, no custody battle, nothing like that,” she said.
It remained unknown on Friday morning whether the car had actually been stolen, Delgado said.
The woman was arrested on suspicion of filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. She was no longer in custody as of Friday morning.