Mom Influencer Found Guilty After Accusing Couple Of Trying To Kidnap Her Children

Katie Sorensen's story about strangers allegedly trying to kidnap her children outside a craft store was debunked shortly after it went viral in December 2020. She now faces up to six months in jail.

by Morgan Brinlee and Jamie Kenney
Originally Published: 

When mother and social-media influencer Katie Sorensen shared frightening allegations of an attempted kidnapping in December of 2020, her story quickly went viral, sparking renewed conversations about child trafficking. Within days, however, Petaluma police announced the allegation was without merit and in April 2021, Sonoma County prosecutors announced Sorensen would face two misdemeanor charges, including giving false information to the police. Almost exactly two years later, on April 27, Sorenson was found guilty and taken into custody. She faces up to six months in jail.

Sorensen claimed her children were “targets” of an attempted kidnapping in December 2020.

The charges stem from an event Sorensen claimed happened at a Michael’s store on Dec. 7, 2020. “My children were the targets of attempted kidnapping,” Sorensen said in a now-deleted video uploaded to her @motherhoodessentials Instagram account (which has also been deleted). “I want to share that story with you in an effort to raise awareness.” Sorensen claimed a man and woman, whom she later identified to police as Sadie Vega-Martinez and Eddie Martinez, followed her into the store after observing her loading her 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter into their stroller in the parking lot. Sorensen told local Fox affiliate KTVU she heard the couple commenting on her children's physical features while she shopped, but ultimately didn't confront them or say anything about their behavior as she was “paralyzed with fear.”

Sorensen alleged that the couple followed them out of the store and into the parking lot, where the man reached out toward Sorensen "as if to grab the stroller," KTVU reported. That's when Sorensen said she yelled for help, causing the couple to take off in a car.

But further investigation refuted Sorenson’s claims, which she elaborated on via her Instagram post. Local law enforcement, which watched surveillance video from the store, found “no evidence or witnesses” to corroborate her allegations. Public backlash was swift, with many, including the couple in question, accusing Sorenson of racial profiling (the Martinezes are Latinx). The Martinzes, parents of five themselves, campaigned for months to have Sorensen charged for her false and very public accusations against them.

During the trial, The Press Democrat reports that Sorenson’s attorney, Charles D. Dresow, argued that the Covid-19 pandemic fostered “higher-level of paranoia,” and that Sorensen “did not know [her report] to be false.” The prosecution, led by Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez, maintained that Sorenson, who was “in significant engagement with QAnon conspiracy theories,” was not confused, but was trying to boost her Instagram brand and raise money. Indeed, her video was seen more than 4 million times, earning her thousands of new followers.

Vega-Martinez, who was appointed to Petaluma’s citizen-led advisory committee on policing and race relations in the wake of the charges, told Elle that she was grateful for the support she has received during this long process. “After [Sorensen] avoided accountability for years, and then hearing she was found guilty and walked out in handcuffs... yes, justice was served,” she told the outlet. “I feel like it’s a step in the right direction for my family.”

Stories of alleged attempted kidnapping are alarming for any parent to hear, and it's not altogether surprising that Sorensen's videos garnered millions of views before she made them private. But just how frequently do kidnappings like the one she described occur? Statistics show that such abductions are quite rare.

Kidnappings facilitated by strangers or people unrelated to a child are rare.

An abduction attempt like the one Sorensen described, in which strangers make an effort to take a child, is classified as a non-family abduction or stereotypical abduction. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), non-family abductions are the rarest type of missing children cases, making up just 1% of the missing children cases reported to the organization.

Data from the FBI has also shown the rarity of non-family abductions. In 2019, the FBI told Reuters that fewer than 350 people age 21 or younger had been abducted by strangers per year since 2010. In fact, the FBI reported that abduction by a stranger accounted for just 0.1% of juvenile disappearances in cases where the circumstances of the disappearances are recorded.

A majority of missing children are not abducted.

More than 95% of missing juvenile cases end up being a situation where the person in question ran away on their own, the FBI told Reuters. This statistic is consistent with data from the Polly Klaas Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 1993 to assist in the recovery of missing children and the prevention of crimes against children.

According to the Polly Klass Foundation, roughly 90% of missing-child cases stem from situations in which children have run away, gotten lost, misunderstood directions, or failed to properly communicate their plans to adults. In contrast, the Polly Klass Foundation has reported that approximately 100 children — representing only a fraction of 1% — are kidnapped by strangers each year.

Children are more likely to be kidnapped by a family member.

Data from both the Polly Klass Foundation and NCMEC show that children are significantly more likely to be abducted by a family member or someone they know. This is also true in cases of child sex trafficking, according to Polaris Project, a nonprofit dedicated to combating human trafficking.

A child may be more at risk for abduction going to or from school.

Of course, while rare, non-family child abduction do happen, meaning it's important for parents and caregivers to know where children may be most at risk. According to an analysis of 10 years of attempted abductions NCMEC conducted, most attempted child abductions occurred while a child was going to or from school or other school-related activities. Subsequently, the analysis also found that the majority of abduction attempts occurred on the street.

As her story went viral, Sorensen told BuzzFeed News she'd taken her allegations of attempted kidnapping public in an effort to “encourage fellow parents to always remain vigilant.”

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