For three months, nearly a million people pored over the “Hi walter” YouTube video, trying to determine if it was a bizarre hoax — or something much worse.
In the video, a man describes spending the day at the mall with “the most wonderful girl” he’d just met. She tried on clothes at J.C. Penney, he said. She picked out a necklace at a jewelry store.
“Then we got kind of tired of the mall and I brought her back to my place,” the man, “Patrick,” says. “And I know she hates cameras Walter, but I’m going to show you to her anyway.”
Moments later, he opens a locked door in what looks like a basement. There’s a woman tied up on the floor, screaming.
“Why are you doing this?” the woman screams as the man walks into the bathroom and shuts the door. “Help!”
The video — apparently the only one uploaded by that user — existed in obscurity for seven years until last month. That’s when viewers noticed the screaming woman resembled Kayla Berg, a 15-year-old who disappeared from a Wisconsin town around the time the video was uploaded.
Antigo, Wis., police laid the viral rumor to rest on Tuesday night, after enlisting the FBI’s help to track down the people in the video.
“The Antigo Police Department has identified the video producer/camera man, actor and actress in the video,” the department said on its Facebook page. “THIS VIDEO HAS NO CONNECTION TO THE DISAPPEARANCE OF KAYLA BERG.”
The video had captivated Kayla’s family, who said the woman on the floor resembled their daughter. Even the clothing matched.
“[It] sounded like her, looked like her, it gave me chills,” Hope Sprenger, Kayla’s mom, told Wisconsin ABC-affiliate WAOW. “Disturbing. “It made me sick to my stomach.”
“I thought it looked a lot like her,” she said. “I pray to God it’s not.”
The Antigo Police Department announced late Tuesday that video is not that of missing teen; https://t.co/pMoE59cidQ
— Karen Madden (@KMadden715) October 12, 2016
Kayla, a high school gymnast, disappeared in August 2009, according to a 2010 CNN profile of the case.
She had asked her brother’s friend to drop her off at her boyfriend’s house near Antigo, about 80 miles northwest of Green Bay. But the house where Kayla was dropped off had been condemned and was being renovated, Kayla’s mother told CNN.
Sprenger said she didn’t approve of her 15-year-old daughter having a boyfriend who was four years older. Investigators used cadaver dogs to search around Kayla’s boyfriend’s house, CNN reported. And they impounded and searched the car of the teen who gave the girl a ride. But no one has been arrested in the case.
The case was complicated by the fact that Kayla’s disappearance wasn’t reported until a week after she went missing. Police believed her friends, who were initially uncooperative, were trying to help her hide.
Now, the viral video has dredged up painful memories for Kayla’s family.
On Monday, Kayla’s brother, James, wrote an exasperated post on Facebook, asking people to stop sharing the video.
“It makes me sick everytime i see it and sure anyone who knew Kayla feels the same way,” he wrote.
“Idk if my minds playing (tricks) or not, but the videos release date…the looks…the sound of scared screams/yelling…if your wanting my opinion let’s just say this…we’ve contacted the FBI because our local PD doesn’t have the experience needed for this.”
The video has since been deleted, although copies have been uploaded to YouTube. An outfit called 2150 Studios based in upstate New York, which has made several comedic YouTube videos, said on Wednesday that it produced the video, and published an apology on its Facebook page.
In a message to The Washington Post, the studio said any resemblance to the Berg case was coincidental:
“We apologize for any emotional harm caused by ‘Hi Walter! I got a new girlfriend.’ we produced in 2009. There was no intention of it resembling any real person or event. The actors involved wish to extend their sympathies to the Mother of Kayla Berg and sincere apologies for the emotional turmoil it caused. Please help find Kayla Berg.”
In a post late Tuesday, James Berg said he was overwhelmed by the attention but happy, at least, that his sister’s case was getting more attention.
“Holy christ…messages from people in Australia, England, all over the world…my sister’s case is finally getting the coverage it’s needed since day 1. Thanks everyone.”