Read the latest on this developing storyPetaluma Police Shut Down Katie Sorensen’s Viral Kidnapping Story (December 18, 2020)

A California mom is claiming in a viral Instagram video that her children were the victims of an attempted kidnapping, and the internet is reacting with exasperation. Katie Sorensen, a mother of three who posts on Instagram under the username @motherhoodessentials, said on her now-private account that she overheard a couple at her local Michael’s discussing a plan to kidnap her children, and that they then followed her out to her car before driving away in a van. 

However, a carefully-worded, now deactivated press release issued by the Petaluma Police Department on December 14 suggests Sorensen did not initially share all the claims from her video with the police. Meanwhile, the rise of QAnon conspiracies and the movement’s growing overlap with with bloggers and influencers has many observers online rolling their eyes at the claims. 

The Petaluma Police Department’s December 14 press release says they found “insufficient evidence to establish that a crime had occurred” at the Michael’s on December 7. Sorensen, who identified two persons of interest shown in a video still included with the release, told the police that she “did not want anyone arrested but wanted to draw attention to the concerning behavior.”

The account given in the Instagram video, which received over two million views on Monday before Sorensen went private, includes details the police department says were not shared with them in the initial report. 

“Petaluma Police Department officers and detectives have subsequently conducted follow-up,” the deactived release read. “Inconsistencies between the two accounts of the incident need to be resolved before criminal charges can be considered.”

Reuters reports that child abduction by a stranger is extremely rare, and the idea that a kidnapper would discuss their intentions within earshot of the victims is suspect. It doesn’t help that the viral video has gained Sorensen tens of thousands of followers, prompting some to write it off as a publicity stunt.

The claim also comes at a time when unsubstantiated fears of child kidnapping are at a high. Thanks to QAnon, numerous child trafficking conspiracy theories—all roundly debunked—have gained traction this year. Wayfair was supposedly trafficking children—it wasn’t. In August, Facebook posts claimed 39 missing children were found in a trailer in Georgia—they weren’t. And throughout the pandemic, viral posts have claimed that wearing masks makes a child more susceptible to kidnapping—it doesn’t

With the internet constantly pushing the narrative that a kidnapper is hiding around every corner, it’s understandable that mothers would be on high alert, and perhaps more susceptible to a fear that doesn’t quite match reality. It also means, though, that the public is even more skeptical of these claims. 

“That's a huge reason I left all my local mom groups and Nextdoor,” one Redditor wrote in a discussion about the video. “Every single day someone looks at them/their kids or smiles at them/their kids and suddenly they're getting sex trafficked.”