Fear gripped the small town of Denison, Tex., after 18-year-old Breana Harmon Talbott burst into a church on a Wednesday night, bleeding and wearing only a shirt, bra and underwear. She said that three black men in ski masks had kidnapped her.
But that was not the worst of it.
“She told witnesses at the church she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted in the woods behind the church,” the Denison County Police Department said in a statement on Wednesday. “There were also visible cuts and/or scratches on her body.”
The March 8 incident was all over the local news, making “many in the community fearful there were individuals abducting women,” police said. Social media erupted so explosively, the police chief attempted to calm the community in a March 15 post on the Denison Police Department Facebook page.
Still no arrests were made, no suspects named.
“We all need to stay alert and make sure that there are warnings issued to all young women, middle aged women and yes even older women that this has happened,” posted one Facebook user. “Lord find these animals give them what thay deserve,” posted another.
The story caught the attention of far right websites, which focused on the alleged suspects’ race. Many seemed angry over a perceived lack of media coverage.
It was posted five times to a Donald Trump subreddit. One headline read, “Three black man kidnapped and gang raped an engaged 18 year old white girl yesterday. IF THE RACES WERE REVERSED, THIS WOULD BE NATIONAL NEWS. THESE MEN DESERVE TO BE HANGED.”
The message board Stormfront, which promotes white-nationalist ideologies, posted a 19-page thread titled, “Beautiful 18 year old White girl (who happened to be race traitor) kidnapped and raped by 3 negroes.” It is unclear why she’s labeled a “race traitor.” Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer also picked up the story.
On Wednesday, nearly two weeks after Talbott burst into the church, police said called her story a “hoax” and the allegations deemed “officially UNFOUNDED.” In a statement, the police chief admonished Talbott for the turmoil she caused in the community and for making offensive claims about African Americans.
“The so-called victim in the case confessed to the hoax last evening (March 21) to a member of the investigative team working the case,” read a news release by the Denison Police Chief Jay Burch. “Talbott’s hoax was also insulting to our community and especially offensive to the African-American community due to her description of the so-called suspects in her hoax.”
“The department will file a criminal case against her for False Report to a Peace Officer, a Class B Misdemeanor” and will “seek restitution for the significant costs for conducting such a major investigation,” Burch’s statement said.
Talbott was booked into the Grayson County Correctional Facility in Sherman, Tex., according to online records. It is unclear if she has been released.
The Denison Police Department declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Wednesday night.
Sam Hollingsworth, Talbott’s fiance at the time, first called police March 8 to report she was missing after finding her car in the parking lot of her apartment complex, which is less than two miles from the church where she turned up partially clothed.
“Her back door wide open, phone keys right over here, phone case was broken, right over in this area over here, I found one of her shoes,” Hollingsworth, told KXII.
Police began searching, using a K-9 team.
Talbott reappeared about three hours later, stumbling into the New Creation Church.
“She was just in her T-shirt, with scratches on her, she was trembling she was so afraid,” congregation member Ana Bermudez told KXII.
The church’s pastor, Saul Marquez, told Fox 4: “She was in bad shape. She was bleeding. They had to bring some sheets to cover her up and try to calm her down.”
“I can’t really describe how she looked, it’s just awful, it tore me up really badly,” Hollingsworth told KXII, adding that Talbott said she was robbed of “four rings, our engagement ring, class ring and a necklace in the shape of a heart.”
“She said she was sexually assaulted and three black males in a black SUV took her,” Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler told the Dallas Morning News. “[The vehicle] went down a bumpy road and that’s the only thing that she could tell us, so right now we’re really wanting information.”
She also said the men wore ski masks.
She was taken to the Texoma Medical Center in Denison, where police said they first became suspicious of her story.
“Almost from the beginning, we had doubts in Breana Harmon Talbott’s story as the puzzle pieces just weren’t coming together,” the police chief said in a statement. “We were unable to corroborate any of Talbott’s allegations that she had been abducted or sexually assaulted.”
“Although I do not have the official report, it is our understanding that medical personnel who examined Talbott were unable to corroborate that Talbott had been sexually assaulted,” the statement said.
Still, the hunt for the three attackers continued. In a Facebook post, Talbott’s mother wrote, “This is going to be a brutally honest post. Today my daughter was taken by force by 3 black men. 2 raped her and she is cut head to toe by a knife. … Someone had to have saw something!!! This town is small, if anyone, anyone hears ANYTHING, please call the Denison Police Department,” according to several news organizations that screen captured the now-deleted post.
It is unclear why Talbott confessed on Tuesday. She told police her wounds were self-inflicted.
“According to Talbott’s confession, we believe the crime scene — from the initial ‘kidnapping’ scene at the apartment complex to the point of Talbott’s condition when she walked into the church — were staged,” Burch’s statement said.
Hollingsworth claimed to know nothing of the “hoax.”
“I was hurt. It was hard to take in whenever I found out about everything,” he told KDFW. “Somebody that I actually trusted and was planning on spending the rest of my life with could do something like this to me and everybody else in this community.”
“We have mixed emotions on a case like this,” Burch said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon, the Herald Democrat reported. “We’re happy it didn’t occur, but there could be permanent damage as a result — a damage of relationships within our community, damage to the reputation of our community.”