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NorCal woman's family 'appalled' by arrest in faked abduction

An undated photo of Sherri Papini released by the Shasta County Sheriff's Office at the time of her supposed disappearance.
Shasta County Sheriff's Office
An undated photo of Sherri Papini released by the Shasta County Sheriff's Office at the time of her supposed disappearance.

The family of a Northern California woman whose 2016 disappearance trigged an intensive search and international headlines on Friday criticized the way she was arrested on charges she faked her own kidnapping.

Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, was “ambushed” in front of her children Thursday afternoon, according to her family. She spent the night in the Sacramento County jail awaiting her first appearance on charges of mail fraud and lying to a federal agent.

Papini disappeared while jogging in 2016. She turned up three weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, alongside a highway about 150 miles (241 kilometers) from her home. She had a “brand” on her right shoulder along with burns and bruises.

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RELATED: Prosecutors: Woman faked kidnapping, defrauded California

She described in great detail to police her abduction at gunpoint and abusive treatment by two “Hispanic women,” triggering a hunt for her abductors. It was all a lie, authorities said Thursday. She actually was with a former boyfriend in Southern California, they said, and beat herself up to support her fabrication.

Her family's statement did not address the veracity of the charges but said the family is ”confused by several aspects" of the counts. They also criticized how she was taken into custody.

“We love Sherri and are appalled by the way in which law enforcement ambushed her (Thursday) afternoon in a dramatic and unnecessary manner in front of her children," the family said in the statement released through a publicist.

She would have come to the police station if asked, the family said, “where this could have been handled in a more appropriate way.”

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Papini and her husband, Keith, have cooperated with investigators' requests, the family said, “despite repeated attempts to unnecessarily pit them against each other, empty threats to publicly embarrass them and other conduct that was less than professional.”

Neither the publicist nor prosecutors knew whether she had an attorney to represent her.

The FBI and U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento declined to comment, while the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately comment but previously said it would have nothing more to say now that charges have been filed. All three agencies investigated the case.

Papini is charged with lying to a federal agent as recently as August 2020, when authorities said they confronted her with evidence that she had made up her story and warned her that lying was a crime.

The mail fraud charge relates to the more than $30,000 she was reimbursed by the California Victim’s Compensation Board, including therapy “for anxiety and PTSD,” according to a court filing.

It carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, while lying to a federal officer has a maximum five-year sentence.

A 55-page court affidavit supporting her charges says a GoFundMe campaign raised more than $49,000 to help the family. No charges are related to that money, which investigators say the couple used to pay off bills and for other expenses.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.