Scared Out of Our Minds

By Lenore Skenazy

April 11, 2019 4 min read

We can't know what was going through her mind, but Santana Adams of Milton, West Virginia, has been charged with falsely accusing a man of trying to kidnap her 5-year-old daughter at the mall.

On April 1, Adams, 24, told the police that a stranger at the Old Navy store in Barboursville, West Virginia, "grabbed the child by the hair and attempted to pull her away." The girl then "dropped to the floor with the male still pulling her." As WSAZ reported, Adams told the cops she scared the man off by pulling a gun out of her purse. The man was later arrested in the mall's food court.

Brave mom thwarts predator with gun! That's what must have appeared to be the case when the accused man, Mohamed Fathy Hussein Zayan, was thrown in jail. Zayan is an Egyptian man in America on a work visa.

But the case against him quickly began to unravel.

First, the mom told investigators that, on second thought, maybe the whole thing was a "cultural misunderstanding." Maybe the guy had just been trying to pat her daughter's head.

By the next day, Tuesday, Zayan was released from the Western Regional Jail — weeping openly as he was greeted by his co-workers.

By Thursday night, he was a free man, after the prosecutor, Sean "Corky" Hammers, dismissed all charges. Hammers had reviewed the evidence, including surveillance video of the two shoppers calmly leaving the store at slightly different times, going in opposite directions. His public defender, Michelle Protzman, vowed to make sure the case is expunged.

By last Friday afternoon, the tables had completely turned and Adams found herself facing charges for accusing Zayan of a crime that did not happen. She could get up to a $500 fine and six months in jail.

Now, perhaps you're wondering why someone would make up such a preposterous story.

For the last couple of years, there's been a string of moms breathlessly posting on Facebook that they were just at the mall (or Ikea, or Target) when suddenly, they realized that they were being stalked by a kidnapper clearly planning to snatch their kids and sex traffic them.

The evidence is usually something like "I saw a guy staring at my baby." Or "I saw the couple in one aisle and then I went down a different aisle and there they were AGAIN!" Or "I looked outside, and there was a van with its door open!"

Inevitably, the mom congratulates herself on having had the wherewithal to figure out what was going on just in time and bravely thwart the heinous crime by ... um ... staring the guys down or something. Then they usually say something like "If it happened to me, it could happen to you!" without reminding readers that, in fact, nothing DID happen. No one grabbed a kid. No one sex trafficked anyone. (In fact, David Finkelhor, the head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, says he knows of ZERO cases of children being kidnapped from a parent in public and sex trafficked.) It's all in the mom's heads.

Nonetheless, the moms end up the heroes of these nonevents, basking in comments such as "Thank you for sharing this!" and "So glad you are safe!" and "You are such a strong, conscientious mama!" So, they create a panic and are rewarded with praise.

Hear enough of those stories and you might even think a guy who may or may not have patted your daughter's head is a kidnapper who should be shot on sight. Imagine the likes!

If only this West Virginia story could go as viral as the my-kid-was-almost-sex-trafficked posts.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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