Redding, California wife and mother-of-two Sherri Papini faked her own abduction back in November 2016, causing a frantic search throughout the county. Last seen on a jog near Old Oregon Trail, her community was “shocked,” with countless networks running the story all over the world. 

Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson told CBS “an extreme amount of pressure” was placed on police to find her, while private investigator Bill Garcia recalled the “fear” many women felt after the alleged kidnapping. 

22 days later, Papini returned with bruises, a branding mark, and signs of being chained. Her story? The then 34-year-old said two Hispanic adult women had kidnapped and tortured her, describing how they held her down “while she was branded,” put a “chain around her waist,” and burned her forearm. Papini even said the supposed perpetrators played “that really annoying Mexican music” loudly, according to court documents. 

With Latinos making up less than 10% of Redding’s population, at the time, panic ensued.

As CBS reports, a feeling of “shame” was placed on the county’s Hispanic community. Sheriff Johnson explained, “any Hispanic woman at that time I’m sure was getting an eyebrow raised… wondering if she can be connected or one of the suspects.”

Radio host Aracely Gutierrez agreed, saying Latinas in the area were scared to go out in groups for fear of being targeted or insulted, and the story seemed fishy from the start — Papini used several racial stereotypes in her description like bandanas or big hoop earrings.

As many expected, Papini’s “kidnapping” turned out to be a hoax. In reality, she was staying at her ex-boyfriend’s Costa Mesa apartment, who helped her run away after she said she was suffering abuse at the hands of her husband.

There are no police reports to back up the claims of abuse. Police used cell tracking and DNA on a green tea bottle found in a garbage can at the ex-boyfriend’s home to find out it was all fake, but it is unclear why she came back with a branded right shoulder, swelling, bruises, burns, and rashes. 

Fast forward today, and Papini is dealing with very real consequences for her fake disappearance.

Now out on a $120,000 bond, she faces up to 25 years in prison for making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and mail fraud. The mail fraud charge is largely based on Papini using $30,000 from the California Victim Compensation Board for therapy, ambulance services and window blinds. She must also pay back more than $300,000 in restitution to federal, state and local agencies.

While Papini is surely facing consequences, many still feel deep frustration over how her case took the attention off real disappearances — particularly those of women of color.

As CBS explains, Latina Hilaria Marmolejo vanished just two months before Papini’s hoax in a neighboring county — and didn’t receive nearly enough news coverage. She remains missing.