Free-Range Kids

Mom Charged With Falsely Accusing a Man of Trying to Kidnap Her 5-Year-Old at the Mall

Video evidence contradicted Santana Adams' account.


Screenshot via ABC 7

She's the Jussie Smollett of the mommy world: 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 told the police that a stranger at the Old Navy store in Barboursville "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:

The woman told police she pulled out a gun and the man quickly left the scene.

The mom told mall security what happened. A short time later they along with the Barboursville Police Department spotted the suspect walking near the food court where he was taken into custody.

Hero mom thwarts predator with gun: That's what appeared to be the case when the accused man, Mohamed Fathy Hussein Zayan, was thrown in jail. Zayan is an Egyptian here 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 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 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. When Zayan had been arrested later that evening at the mall's food court he'd been completely stunned and confused. He'd actually been at Old Navy to shop for his own daughter. His public defender, Michelle Protzman, vowed to make sure the case is expunged.

By Friday afternoon the tables had completely turned and Adams found herself facing charges for accusing Zayan of a crime that did not happen. Possible penatlies are a $500 fine and sixth months in jail.

Perhaps you're wondering why someone would make up such a preposterous story. I have an idea.

For the last few years, there has been a string of moms going on Facebook, breathlessly claiming that they were out 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, uh, staring the guys down. Then the mom usually says something like, "if it happened to me it could happen to you," without reminding readers that in fact, nothing happened. No one grabbed a kid. No one was sex-trafficked. (The head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, says he knows of zero cases of a child kidnapped from a parent in public and sex trafficked.) It's all in the moms' heads.

Yet they get thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of approving shares and comments on social media.

Here's one story. Here's another, and another, and another. Here's one that went mega-viral a few years back. You get the idea. It's a panic, with a twist: adulation.

The mom ends up the hero of the non-event, basking in comments like thank you for sharing this, and so glad you are safe and, you are such a strong, conscientious mama.

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