I blogged before about how a Southern Illinois graduate student fooled the school newspaper into printing letters from a girl whose Kodee father Sgt Dan Kennings was supposedly serving in Iraq. This hoax went on for two years till the 'soldier' supposedly died and the Chicago Tribune did some elementary fact checking. It was soon discovered that Sgt Dan Kennings never existed.
Today's Chicago Tribune reports that the SIU Carbondale police department is investigating whether any laws were broken during the perpertration of the Kennings hoax.
The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Police Department is investigating the "Sgt. Dan Kennings" hoax to determine whether anyone broke the law in carrying on the two-year ruse about a phony soldier in Iraq and his daughter, the campus police chief said Tuesday.
SIU police have interviewed "some of the people involved," said SIU Public Safety Director Todd Sigler. They also are collecting documents, including e-mails, to help figure out whether Jaimie Reynolds or anyone else profited from the hoax, which played out in the pages of the student newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
Investigators are piecing together various deceptions carried out since May 6, 2003, when former Daily Egyptian reporter Michael Brenner published his first story about Kennings going off to war in Iraq, leaving his 8-year-old daughter Kodee behind with Kennings' stepbrother and his wife. Many people in the community responded sympathetically to the story and letters--ostensibly from Kodee to her father--that the paper subsequently published.
"It's a bit of a unique situation, so we're moving at a very deliberate, methodical pace," Sigler said. "The devil will be in the details with this."
First comment. The campus police or the Carbondale city police are investigating? Obviously campus police don't have arrest powers.
But what crimes were committed?
A local firefighter said he gave the child toys, and the girl said she remembers members of a Detroit church giving her envelopes containing small amounts of cash during visits in December and May. A lawyer for the Detroit World Outreach ministry said the church did not give any money, but individuals in the congregation may have made contributions.
As despicable as fooling a church congregation is, I don't know if it builds to being an actual crime. My church congregation here in Florida was fooled by a hoax a few years back. This is not as uncommon as you may think but it is disgusting however.
The Carbondale Illinois Southern Illinoisan has more on both the fire department and the church angles. Click here and here. The SI also ran a brief story on Kodee in September 2004.
Reading the whole the whole Kennings affair, you sometimes have to shake your head at how gullible people can be. I can understand a little girl thinking a documentary was being shot. But adults? The college students are a little more understandable, they let their political views color their reporting. Just like much of the MSM today. Click here for an example.
The Tribune article went on.
Reynolds has said there was no financial motive to the hoax, and that she was trying to help her reporter friend Brenner concoct a heart-rending story that might advance his career.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Brenner again denied vehemently that he was anything other than a misled reporter who never bothered to check the facts of the story.
"I'm so sick of being crucified when I am the victim of this whole thing," he said. "I'm really getting worn out talking to the media."
For the moment I believe Reynolds. I don't think she did it for financial gain. Rather Ms. Reynolds did it to get attention. Something she is getting plenty of now but not of the type she wants.
As to Michael Brenner, I have a much harder time believing in his innocence. The first reason is his reporting on Kodee and her father.
The story the Daily Egyptian published reads as if Brenner was on the scene of the emotional parting between father and daughter at Fort Campbell, Ky.Following is an excerpt from Brenner's Daily Egyptian story:
"In an attempt to delay his departure, Kodee swiped his helmet and refused to let go, saying he could not leave without his helmet.
Ã¬Still in tears, Kennings took his helmet back from his 8-year-old daughter, but he still could not convince her he had to go. She refused to let go of his arms, and pleaded with her father.
Ã¬Ã«Please donÃt leave,Ã Kodee begged. Ã«IÃll be good if you stay. I wonÃt get in trouble
During the Friday interview, Brenner defended the style of writing he had used in the story."It was the style going around the newsroom at the time," Brenner said.
So he gives a first accounting tale of the emotional separation. Now Brenner is saying that was a stylistic selection. He lied therefore in his reporting, why are we to believe he had no part in the story?
There's also something out of the original Tribune story.
Tribune reporters continued asking questions, and some students and a faculty member were growing increasingly hostile because of suggestions that Kennings did not exist. By Tuesday night, however, Brenner was pacing nervously outside a Dairy Queen in Carterville, Ill., talking to Hastings on his cell phone.
He handed the phone to a Tribune reporter, and Hastings said she would come to the Dairy Queen and listen to questions.Brenner, 25, said he was still convinced of Kennings' existence and defended Hastings for trying to protect a little girl.
Hastings pulled into the parking lot in the same red car she'd driven to the memorial service. She was told that the military denied Kennings' existence and that the name Colleen Hastings appeared in no public-records databases in Illinois. She was asked for a driver's license and for a death certificate for Kennings.
With each question, Hastings shook her head no.After Brenner spoke to her for a minute alone, she drove off.
This meeting sounds suspicious unless the non-responses from Reynolds are her reacting to the hoax and her embarassment in taking part in it. In my opinion these two are were working together. Brenner who was promoted to editor of the Daily Egyptian after the first Kodee story was published, had something to gain from the whole affair.
After finishing his studies at SIU, Brenner went to work for a newspaper in Oregon. He quit a few months back. The reason? He wanted to be closer to Kodee.
Brenner recently quit his job as a sportswriter with the East Oregonian, a job he landed shortly after donning his gown and receiving his diploma in the December 2004 SIUC graduation ceremonies.
He said he left the Oregon job after only a few months because he wanted to spend time with his family in Illinois - and with the girl he said he had known as "Kodee Kennings."
Just an incredible story. Mr. Brenner should take up fiction writing.
Supper- Basil's blog