The woman told police that she was pumping gas into her Nissan Altima with her three small children safely in the passenger seats when someone jumped into her car and drove away.

Prince George’s County police called in every detective working Sunday night to find the thieves, the Altima and the woman’s children. Officers issued an Amber Alert, which was posted on The Washington Post’s Web site and broadcast on television and radio.

But, police say now, she was lying. She made up the story about the kids so police would intensify their search for her car, authorities said Monday.

“Because there was this potential for three young children being in danger, the police response was swift and impressive until we could disprove her report,” said Julie Parker, a Prince George’s police spokeswoman. “It’s incredibly disappointing to find out this was made up in an attempt to get faster response time to a legitimate crime.”

On Monday, police announced that they had charged Deborah Fashakin, 33, of Capitol Heights with making a false statement to a law enforcement officer. She was arrested and held on $5,000 bond.

Reached by phone in New York, Abraham Fashakin, Fashakin’s father, said he didn’t know about the incident.

Police were called to the Exxon gas station in the 6400 block of Central Avenue in Seat Pleasant for a reported car theft about 8:45 p.m., Parker said. They met Fashakin, who told them that the thief had made off not only with her Altima but also with her children, ages 1, 4 and 5, Parker said.

Police immediately launched an intensive search — suspending what they call “proactive” activities, such as surveillance, and calling in all of the 20 detectives on duty to help search for the Altima, Parker said. Patrol officers from other districts were rerouted to the Seat Pleasant area, Parker said. Police also issued an Amber Alert for the missing children, broadcasting a description of the Altima and its license plate number in hopes that someone might spot it, Parker said.

“This response cost tens of thousands of dollars and pulled resources that otherwise could have been spent serving the citizens of Prince George’s County and the District,” Parker said. “We took this seriously. We had to.”

Police found the Altima about 11:15 p.m. in the 600 block of 53rd Street SE in the District. No children were inside. Police also located a Dodge Stratus thought to have been used by the thieves as they pulled up to the Exxon. No children were in the Dodge.

About 11:50 p.m., Parker said, Fashakin admitted that she had made up the story about her children “because she wanted an enhanced police response to finding her stolen car,” Parker said. Detectives confirmed that the only child she had custody of, a 1-year-old girl, was safe with a babysitter in Suitland, and that her other daughter, 4, lived with her father in Wisconsin. Parker said Fashakin’s third child had died some time ago.

Police canceled the Amber Alert about midnight and moved to charge Fashakin with lying to them. Although investigators think the car was actually stolen, they do not think the children were ever in danger, Parker said.

Parker said police “don’t want any citizen going to these lengths” to spark such a massive police response and noted that many residents had expressed outrage online about Fashakin’s actions.

“People were appalled once they found out,” Parker said, “because people become invested in this.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.