The Karen Who Cried Kidnapping

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Collage by Mark Harris

On this piece, initially printed in April 2022, Sadie Vega-Martinez and her husband, Eddie Martinez, spoke out intimately for the primary time after being accused of tried kidnapping exterior a Michaels craft retailer. One yr later, Katie Sorensen, the girl who accused the Martinez household of tried kidnapping, was convicted of a making a false report of against the law. In response to court docket data obtained by ELLE, she was charged with three misdemeanor counts of creating a false report of against the law. She was acquitted of the primary two counts, however discovered responsible on the third depend. In response to The Press Democrat, Sorensen confirmed “no emotion” as the decision was learn and was “shortly positioned in handcuffs and led from the courtroom.”

Sadie Vega-Martinez, talking solely with ELLE about Sorensen’s conviction, mentioned she was “glad” with the decision. “After [Sorensen] prevented accountability for years, after which listening to she was discovered responsible and walked out in handcuffs… sure, justice was served,” Vega-Martinez mentioned. “I really feel prefer it’s a step in the precise path for my household. I’m grateful for the help.”

In response to a June 2023 press launch, Sorenson was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 60 of which may be served on a piece launch program. She was “instantly remanded after sentencing to serve her sentence,” in keeping with the discharge. She has additionally been positioned on 12 months of “casual probation”—meaning no social media presence.


Sadie Vega-Martinez wanted to seek out child Jesus. On December 7, 2020, the mom of 5 threw her hair up in a messy bun, pulled on sweats, and dragged her husband Eddie to the Michaels craft retailer 5 minutes from their residence in Petaluma, California. She was on a mission to finish a nativity scene for her Christmas desk. As they wove by means of aisles of Puffy paints, jars of glitter, and rainbow-colored yarn, Sadie didn’t discover the blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother pushing a double stroller and eyeing her and Eddie suspiciously. “We by no means would have even identified she existed,” Sadie tells me. “No encounter, nothing.”

If there had been, what occurred subsequent might need made much more sense.

The blonde girl, micro-momfluencer Katie Sorensen (@motherhoodessentials on Instagram), definitely observed Sadie and Eddie. In a two-part Instagram video filmed from the motive force’s seat of her SUV six days later, Sorensen spun a terrifying story a few “[not] clean-cut” man and girl who practically succeeded in kidnapping her two younger youngsters. Sorensen claims the couple began speaking about her youngsters’ ages and honest complexions someplace close to the spray-paint aisle, then adopted them out to the car parking zone. In response to Sorensen, the couple held arms and walked about midway round her automobile a number of instances earlier than the person tried to grab her stroller. “By absolutely the grace of God,” Sorensen says within the video, an aged man parked close by observed what was occurring, and the couple ran to their very own automobile and sped away. “I need to share that story with you in an effort to boost consciousness as to what indicators to search for,” Sorensen says, eyes large, voice shaking as she movies, “and to encourage mother and father to be extra conscious of their environment.”

In actuality, her frantic warning succeeded solely in shining a highlight on herself. Sorensen’s video gained her a flood of recent Instagram followers, an interview with the native information, and an outpouring of on-line help from terrified mothers. However police mentioned an investigation into the incident produced no proof {that a} crime had taken place. Now Sorensen herself is scheduled to be on trial in Might. As a substitute of practically being one of many extraordinarily uncommon stranger abductions within the U.S. yearly, the reality might change into one thing much less shocking: a white girl portray herself because the sufferer, when she is definitely the aggressor.

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baby jesus ceramic statue

The newborn Jesus statue Sadie purchased at Michaels.

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Greater than a yr later, Sadie remains to be consumed by questions. Why her? Why Eddie? Why within the glittering aisles of Michaels, the beloved mecca for passion fanatics? The couple, who each have Nicaraguan mother and father, grew up collectively within the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, the place Eddie’s father has been a cable automobile conductor for greater than 34 years. They obtained collectively in 2000, and 7 years later, moved 40 miles north to the largely white city of Petaluma, on the lookout for a quiet place with a suburban really feel to boost their household.

Ronald Reagan’s well-known “It’s Morning Once more in America” marketing campaign business was partly filmed in Petaluma, and similar to within the advert, the neighbors all appear to know each other. “It appeared like an incredible place [for] youngsters,” says Eddie, who works as an area UPS driver. Sadie operates a small enterprise from residence making balloon arches for birthday events. “She will be able to do something higher than what you’d purchase within the retailer,” Eddie brags. Sadie makes all their youngsters’ Halloween costumes out of thrift-store finds and lends her stitching expertise for college performs. At their eldest daughter’s quinceañperiod, she hand-decorated salsa jars for every desk. When one visitor requested for the title of their occasion planner, “Sadie was like, ‘I did this myself!’” Eddie says. For a few years, the Martinezes and their 5 youngsters have been glad in Petaluma, even when there was the occasional slight, like when a bully instructed considered one of their youngsters to “return” to the place she got here from. “They’ve been raised and taught that these are different folks’s points, not ours,” Sadie says.

Someday after leaving Michaels “paralyzed with worry,” as Sorensen instructed an area TV station, she headed to the Petaluma police headquarters, the place she instructed officers she wasn’t concerned with having anybody arrested—solely in elevating consciousness about “suspicious habits,” in keeping with a division press launch. After taking her report that the couple had adopted her and “loitered suspiciously” (she didn’t allege that anybody tried to take the stroller right now), officers searched the world and decided no crime had been described, and determined to not difficulty a public discover, in keeping with a division assertion. Seemingly unhappy by the police’s response, Sorensen began a one-woman consciousness marketing campaign.

family riding a cable car

Sadie and Eddie with three of their youngsters and Eddie’s father (far left), who has been a cable automobile conductor in San Francisco for greater than 34 years.

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couple posing for a photo in san francisco sports gear

Sadie and Eddie each marvel if they have been singled out in Michaels due to the colour of their pores and skin.

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On December 13, she uploaded the two-part video, which was reportedly considered 4.5 million instances earlier than being taken down. The video contained essential data omitted of Sorensen’s unique assertion to police, together with the allegation that the person had tried to grab her stroller. If true, such habits may represent tried youngster abduction, a prison offense underneath California regulation that might carry a possible jail sentence of as much as 11 years. Inside hours, the near-abduction had turn out to be a sizzling matter in Petaluma neighborhood Fb and Nextdoor teams. “I used to be seeing all these alarmist posts, like ‘Watch out,’ ” says journalist Kathryn Palmer, who wrote in regards to the incident for Petaluma’s newspaper the Argus-Courier. “It stored on developing in each dialog.”

The city’s historical past of creating headlines for youngster abduction solely added gasoline. On October 1,1993—practically 4 miles from Michaels—a dimpled 12-year-old named Polly Klaas was taken at knifepoint from a slumber occasion by a stranger with an extended report of great offenses and was later discovered strangled to loss of life. Galvanized by a widespread worry felt by California communities, state legislators adopted a controversial “three strikes and also you’re out” coverage that retains repeat felony offenders in jail for 25 years to life upon conviction of a 3rd severe crime.

Petaluma police started one other investigation primarily based on Sorensen’s assertions within the Instagram movies. This time, in keeping with the police division, Sorensen instructed officers she wished the couple prosecuted.

That afternoon, as child Jesus lay nestled in his manger, Sadie felt a faucet on her shoulder. “Mother, is that this you?” her daughter requested, pointing to her telephone. A buddy in her group chat had forwarded a neighborhood alert from Petaluma police with a blurry screenshot of the accused couple on the Michaels checkout counter. Sadie acknowledged the person’s black hoodie with a Black Lives Matter emblem. She had purchased it for Eddie. When Sadie confirmed her husband, he was completely confused. “Like, ‘What was her goal, her endgame for all of this?’ ” Eddie says. A couple of hours later, Sadie obtained a Fb message from Petaluma police asking her and Eddie to come back to the station. “It didn’t appear actual,” Sadie says. “Like, ‘This needs to be a joke.’”

How did a visit to the shop to purchase vacation decorations flip into…this?


Their minds reeling, they consulted an legal professional within the household and agreed to totally cooperate with police. “For Sadie and me, it was recreation on,” Eddie says. “We would have liked to defend ourselves.” As they sat earlier than investigators telling their facet of the story, dozens of their mates set to work, flagging Sorensen’s video to Instagram as inappropriate content material; the Martinezes additionally say households to whom Eddie delivers packages referred to as the police division to vouch for his character. “I’m married to a UPS man who’s like Norm from Cheers—everyone is aware of him,” Sadie says. “Katie ought to have in all probability executed just a little little bit of homework and picked totally different characters for her story.”

After discovering “no proof or witnesses corroborating” Sorensen’s account, the investigation was closed on December 17, 2020. The following day, Petaluma’s police chief launched a press assertion saying an investigation into whether or not the incident at Michaels was falsely reported, stating that “if proof of a racially-motivated hate crime is discovered to have occurred we’ll search prosecution to the fullest extent underneath the regulation.”

“Katie ought to have in all probability executed just a little little bit of homework and picked totally different characters for her story.”

Sadie, who puzzled whether or not she and Eddie had been singled out due to the colour of their pores and skin, hoped Sorensen could be charged with a hate crime. “However that’s very laborious to show,” she says, “so we needed to be content material with what we may get.” A number of months later, Sorensen was charged with three misdemeanor counts of giving false reviews to police. (She has not been charged with a hate crime.) Sorensen entered a plea of not responsible; if convicted, underneath California regulation, misdemeanors can carry a sentence of as much as six months in jail or a nice of as much as $1,000, or each. (Makes an attempt to achieve Sorensen instantly and thru her lawyer went unanswered.) Sadie and Eddie have each been subpoenaed and can seem in court docket on Might 19, 2022.

Now a brand new thought retains Sadie up at night time: “Jail received’t repair the techniques that enable the Katies of the world to do these items within the first place,” she says. “She’s just a bit piece of a giant puzzle.”


Sorensen’s household has ties to northern Virginia, and she or he studied early childhood and particular training at Brigham Younger College–Idaho. Someday throughout her time there, she met and married David Sorensen, an out of doors fanatic who documented his fishing and looking exploits on-line. (David didn’t reply to a request for remark.) Later, the couple put down roots in California to boost their two youngsters. David’s Fb reveals street journeys down the Pacific Coast Freeway, matching tie-dyed T-shirts, and massive bonfires with mates.

Sorensen should have acknowledged the marketability of her household’s happiness. Her Instagram @motherhoodessentials was a fairly typical mother weblog. She posted in regards to the youngsters, clear magnificence, and the advantages of CBD. She reportedly had 6,000 followers, and have become a verified “Amazon Influencer,” permitting her to earn cash selling every little thing from brightly coloured child utensils to Rachel Hollis books. In 2017, Sorensen and her mother, Jill Turgeon, launched a group of child bibs with sewn-in important oil diffuser pads. She was additionally a self-described “unbiased wellness advocate” hawking important oils from dōTERRA, the multilevel advertising and marketing firm beloved by small- to mid-level influencers.

In the summertime of 2020, months earlier than Sorensen would go public along with her alleged near-kidnapping, she took up the battle in opposition to intercourse trafficking, posting a 20-slide spotlight reel to Instagram, referred to as “SaveTheChildren,” the place she shared aesthetically pleasing infographics begging social media corporations to take away pedophilia accounts and promising to talk up on behalf of the “hundreds of thousands that fall sufferer to human trafficking yearly.” In a single slide, Sorensen uploaded footage from a rally the place protesters held indicators saying “Rise Up.” In one other submit to her grid, she posed in entrance of a theater’s marquee with the well-known Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “The time is all the time proper to do what is true.” She’s holding what seems to be a hand-drawn anti-trafficking signal. The caption leads with “Slavery nonetheless exists,” and comprises the hashtag #savethechildren.

father and daughter posing wearing black lives matter t shirts

Eddie, with considered one of his daughters, carrying the Black Lives Matter hoodie he had on that day in Michaels.

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five children posing in formal wear at a church

Sadie and Eddie’s 5 youngsters.

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Many overly on-line mothers hopped on the anti-trafficking practice round that very same time. A few of them expressed help for an apparent stance (that each one youngsters ought to be protected), whereas others (each knowingly and unknowingly) used the hashtag to unfold malicious conspiracy theories related to QAnon, together with that prime Democrats and Hollywood elites are operating a child-trafficking operation.

The fervor was simply the newest iteration of a favourite American pastime: ethical panic. Within the Nineteen Eighties, “stranger hazard” hysteria had a viselike grip on American mother and father, spurred by a string of high-profile kidnappings, beginning in 1979 with the tragic disappearance and presumed strangulation of six-year-old Etan Patz in New York Metropolis, adopted by names you may keep in mind from the edges of milk cartons: Jacob Wetterling, Adam Walsh, and Petaluma’s personal Polly Klaas. They weren’t simply youngster victims, they have been family names that white-knuckled mother and father swapped theories about, all at a time when communities throughout the nation have been grappling with busing, built-in colleges, homosexual liberation, and ladies’s rights.

The supposed slipping away of “conventional household values” made hundreds of thousands really feel unmoored. “All these items served to ascertain a stranger-danger logic that youngsters are significantly susceptible to abduction by strangers at a given second due to historic circumstances,” says Florida State College assistant professor of historical past Paul Renfro, writer of Stranger Hazard: Household Values, Childhood, and the American Carceral State. “There are fairly just a few linkages that may be drawn to what we’re experiencing now,” he provides, citing the #MeToo motion, the racial justice reckoning, financial temper swings. To not point out polarization. This advanced pastiche reemerged throughout lockdown as mother and father had much more time to doom-scroll. These on the lookout for one thing extra to fret about discovered any variety of wild claims to glom on to.

In response to one survey performed by political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Adam Enders in 2020, round half of the contributors consider that 300,000 or extra youngsters are victims of intercourse trafficking, and considered one of 4 contributors suppose that quantity is way increased. Baby trafficking does occur within the U.S., and it’s a horrific crime, however the actuality is a far cry from the stereotypical picture stamped into anxious mother and father’ heads. It largely impacts youngsters who’re economically and socially susceptible, normally residing in poverty or foster care. Reasonably than being ripped from their beds at midnight, most younger individuals are trafficked by lovers or mother and father for cash or medication.

Kidnapping additionally occurs, however it not often includes strangers forcing youngsters into white vans. In response to information from the Nationwide Heart for Lacking & Exploited Youngsters, out of the 29,782 lacking youngsters circumstances the nonprofit assisted authorities with in 2020, solely 79 have been “non-family abductions.” That’s in distinction to 1,396 “household abductions” that yr, during which a baby was taken, wrongfully retained, or hid by a father or mother or different member of the family depriving one other of their custody or visitation rights. Absolutely every of the 79 stranger abductions was terrifying, however it’s a far cry from 300,000. That spurious determine, nonetheless touted by some politicians, traces again to deceptive information from the Nineteen Nineties, in keeping with a 2015 Washington Put up fact-check.

The unhappy fact is, the biggest share of lacking youngsters within the U.S. are runaways who are sometimes homeless, addicted, abused, or rejected—a lot of them misplaced earlier than they ever depart residence, in keeping with the U.S. Division of Justice.

“Any time we spend participating these lies essentially distracts from the actual work wanted to fight human trafficking.”

It’s not, in fact, a grift to care in regards to the exploitation of kids, which is each actual and dangerous. However disproportionate concern on-line can have damaging real-life penalties. Greater than 120 anti-trafficking organizations penned an open letter in October 2020 criticizing the unfold of baseless sex-trafficking conspiracy theories, just like the wildly insane (and patently false) declare that furnishings and residential items firm Wayfair trafficks youngsters. “Any time we spend participating these lies essentially distracts from the actual work wanted to fight human trafficking,” the group mentioned. “We urge you to interact actual wants moderately than politically motivated and profoundly harmful narratives that hurt the very individuals who they declare to be talking for.”

Final yr, TikToker Paige MarieParker, a tarot card reader with over 174,000 followers, posted a video repeating a rumor about traffickers in North Carolina inserting automobile seats in parking tons as bait. Police debunked the speculation, however not earlier than Parker’s video reportedly racked up over 12 million views. When reached through e-mail late final yr, Parker expressed remorse. Type of. “I don’t need to misinform anybody,” Parker mentioned. “I simply need to ensure that males, ladies, and youngsters are secure.” Consultants say that the issue with most of these “consciousness” movies is that when an account of trafficking goes viral—actual or not—authentic nonprofits just like the Nationwide Human Trafficking Hotline obtain a flurry of concern that hogs time and sources. “Once we get 1000’s of [calls] from individuals who learn a narrative on the web, there could possibly be [a real survivor] ready,” says Robert Beiser, director of the Strategic Initiative in Intercourse Trafficking at Polaris, the nonprofit that runs the hotline. “In the event that they actually care about trafficking, our hope is that additionally they care about options…and never simply [what] they learn on social media.”


The rumor round city, Sadie says, is that Sorensen has relocated out of state. In her final submit from December 14, 2020, Sorensen describes being “grateful” that her movies “have served many fellow mother and father, and have been a reminder to all the time keep vigilant.” The account—modified to @motherhoodessentials_ (with an underscore on the finish) and now personal, although not deleted—nonetheless has over 64,000 followers (down from a reported 80,000 on the peak of the hysteria). Her mom, Jill Turgeon, has referred to as the case in opposition to her daughter “baffling” and “utterly misguided,” on a GoFundMe web page that’s raised $2,300 of its $50,000 purpose to purportedly cowl her daughter’s authorized charges. “The tables have been turned,” Turgeon writes partly on the web page. “To say that this can be a nightmare is a profound understatement.”

Whereas Sorensen stays out of sight, Sadie has by no means been extra seen, utilizing the hashtag #ProsecuteKatie in TikTok movies she’s uploaded in regards to the incident. Final March, Petaluma mayor Teresa Barrett appointed Sadie to the city’s police oversight committee, the place Sadie offered her personal model of a San Francisco regulation permitting folks reported to the police for unfair or pointless causes to hunt justice (it hasn’t been adopted). It’s referred to as the Warning Towards Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, or the CAREN Act. “I’ll all the time converse up and help folks, particularly in terms of racism in Petaluma,” Sadie says. “[Katie] was attempting to unfold consciousness about one thing that by no means occurred, when actually folks ought to pay attention to folks like her.”

family standing in a michaels parking lot

Sadie (heart) along with her household in entrance of the Michaels the place she was accused of tried kidnapping.

By now, a lot of those that believed Sorensen’s wild story have discovered the opposite facet of the story. Nonetheless, there are faceless “keyboard warriors,” as Sadie calls them, who might proceed to subscribe to an alternate actuality. A conviction for Sorensen may deliver some consolation, however it received’t repair the embarrassment or the ache of being on the heart of a really public police investigation. Simply when she begins to maneuver previous it, Sadie will face a reminder, like the opposite day in T.J. Maxx when one other shopper, an older white girl, observed her and whispered, “Be careful for youngster abductors” to her buddy. “I’ve a fan membership,” Sadie says with a sigh. “We’re studying to dwell with the truth that our faces are tied to youngster abduction.”

It took her six months to return to Michaels. This time, Sadie placed on a full face of make-up and wore her hair down. She grabbed some poster board and felt tip pens, and shortly checked out. “[We’re] extra hesitant after we depart the home, as a result of we have now targets on our backs,” she says. “I’m a assured particular person, so this received’t drive me loopy.” For a grasp craftswoman like Sadie, it’s going to take much more for her to turn out to be unglued.


This text seems within the April 2022 difficulty of ELLE.

Headshot of Rose Minutaglio

Senior Editor

Rose is a Senior Editor at ELLE overseeing options and initiatives about ladies’s points. She is an achieved and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels in acquiring unique interviews and unearthing compelling options.
 


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