Police in the Northern California city of Petaluma said Thursday night that they found no evidence of a crime after investigating allegations by a mom influencer that a couple tried to kidnap her kids in a local craft store. Police officials said they have instead found evidence that supports the couple's version of events.
Katie Sorensen's tale of barely escaping a pair of kidnappers at her local Michaels blew up social media this week after she posted it on her Instagram account, @motherhoodessentials.
In a press conference on Friday afternoon, the couple accused came forward. Sadie Vega-Martinez said when she recognized herself and her husband, Eddie Martinez, in the photo being circulated by police as the suspects, she was shocked.
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s like we’re literally guilty of being brown while shopping,” she said at the press conference, according to The Petaluma Argus-Courier.
Vega-Martinez's daughter, Esaia Gonzalez, told BuzzFeed News her mom and stepdad are of Latino descent, and have five children between them and two grandchildren. Her stepdad works in the community as a UPS driver.
Gonzales said she is horrified at the allegations against her parents, who she says were shopping and probably speaking about their own grandchildren, not Sorensen's kids, in the store. She accused Sorensen of racial profiling.
"This isn’t the first racist injustice to occur in Petaluma by a long shot, but we are definitely grateful that in this case the truth was rightfully pursued," she said.
In two videos posted on her Instagram account on Monday, Sorensen told her audience that she had been the victim of an "attempted kidnap" a week prior. She described how a couple had followed her around the store, made comments about her children, and said that the man had even lunged at her stroller.
After her videos went viral, the Petaluma Police Department released a statement on the incident, saying Sorensen provided new details in her video she had not given in her initial report that could constitute a crime. When they interviewed Sorensen on Monday again, she repeated the new allegations.
"She was definitive that the couple approached her children’s stroller and that the male reached for it; she stated she would testify to that fact, and that she wanted the couple prosecuted," the department said in a press release.
Police said they were able to identify the couple soon after and contacted them through social media. The couple immediately responded and have been cooperative.
"While acknowledging they had shopped at Michaels and were the couple shown in the photograph, they denied the allegations being made against them by the reporting party," police said.
The subsequent investigation, police said, supported the couple's account.
"To date, the investigation has produced no evidence or witnesses corroborating the account provided by the reporting party. Evidence gathered has served to support the account provided by the couple from the store," the release states.
Police said the case is now closed unless new evidence emerges. Sorensen didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but previously told BuzzFeed News she "had no intentions or underlying motives for sharing my story, other than to encourage fellow parents to always remain vigilant."
Gonzalez said her mother had called on Tuesday and said that she had recognized herself in the photo police had released. At first, Vega-Martinez was mostly confused, but then grew scared when she saw her image was being shared on "#savethechildren" pages online.
At the press conference, Vega-Martinez said she and her husband had gone to the store to get Christmas decorations and a Nativity set. She described herself as an "arts and crafts person," but now feels afraid to go back to Michael's.
“One of my kids wanted to go there to buy stuff to make hot chocolate balls and I just don’t feel comfortable," she said, according to the newspaper. "I feel like I have a target on my back, now that our image is out on the internet. Who’s to say some crazy person is not gonna come for us?”
Gonzalez said she questions the motives of Sorensen to report the incident and then "pressure" the police via social media when no police report was filed after her initial report.
"Somewhere in her mind she sincerely misconstrued this 'brown' couple innocently shopping at a craft store and discussing their own grandchildren as activity that was somehow threatening to her family," she said.
According to Gonzalez, her stepdad had been wearing a "Black Lives Matter" hoodie during the incident.
"It’s no surprise that this year has been one of turmoil for everyone, given the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, calls for police reform, the election, etc. I am, however, surprised at the climate of hate it has created in smaller parts of the country, such as Sonoma County," she said.
Gonzalez said they hope this incident will serve to shed light on racial profiling in suburban and rural communities.
"The media typically draws attention to these sorts of struggles in large cities but why isn’t anyone paying attention to and questioning the more rural areas?" she asked.
A local activist group called Indivisible Petaluma has also accused Sorensen of racially profiling the couple and called for community members to stand in solidarity with them.
They plan to speak out about the incident on Monday at a City Council meeting, according to organizers.
"Racial profiling should not be dismissed. Petaluma Police Department did poor job protecting the latinx couple," they wrote on Instagram.