The photograph of smiling 9-year-old boy, his bald head covered by a hat, who was apparently losing his terminal battle with leukemia, pulled at the heartstrings of a Colorado community.
But the story, and the boy, were fake. The picture of the 9-year-old was reportedly traced back to a Kids Cancer Crusade website and is of a South African boy, who is still alive.
The wool seemed to have been pulled over the eyes of the Eagle, Colo., community by a 22-year-old woman named Briana Augustenbourg. The story unraveled on Friday when a fake obituary was posted in the Vail Daily, and was investigated by local radio station KSKE.
“Our beautiful angel Alexander Jordan lost his two-year battle with leukemia on Thursday at the age of 9,” reads the obituary that the newspaper has since unpublished.
When the station found that no death certificate existed for the boy, it alerted authorities, said Holli Snyder, general manager of KSKE.
“We are committed to our community and felt that this needed to be brought to light as soon as we found out,” Snyder said in a statement to ABCNews.com.
Chief of Police Rodger D. McLaughlin confirmed that police were investigating what seemed like a hoax. The police have questioned Augustenbourg but have not commented further. They are also investigating whether any laws have been broken.
There did not seem to be an apparent motive. Attempts to reach Augustenbourg were unsuccessful.
A few weeks ago, the 22-year-old reportedly told a co-worker about the ailing boy, whom she said was a family friend named Alexander Jordan. She said he was a fan of the Eagle Valley High School football team, according to an account published in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.
The co-worker, who had a son on the team, shared the heartbreaking tale with players, prompting the team to invite the boy to one of its games and send him a signed football and share his story with others.
Alexander’s fictional plight eventually attracted the attention of the Eagle Valley Enterprise, which published a story that also ran in the Vail Daily, about the 9-year-old. The reporter was told that the family was too distraught to talk, and sent a family friend to meet with her.
“She said the family just wanted to share the story and that they found so much comfort in the support they were receiving. Looking back, that was the moment the hook set,” reporter Pam Boyd wrote in an apology published in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.
Augustenbourg told Boyd the family didn’t need any money but only wanted to get its story out. It’s not known whether any money was collected elsewhere. Anyone who donated was asked to call the Eagle Police Department.
Despite the fact so many people believed they’d been duped, Greg Doanm, principal of Eagle Valley High School, said he was proud of his students.
“At first, they were confused and disappointed — why would someone fake this type of story?” he told ABCNews.com. “But they quickly moved on. They were willing to help lift someone’s spirit, which is the right thing to do.”