Louisiana Woman Roils Race Relations with Fake KKK Burn Story

Police say Sharmeka Moffitt inflicted the burns to 60 percent of her body.

October 24, 2012, 10:08 AM

Oct. 24, 2012 — -- Race relations have been riled twice this week in a Louisiana town where police say a woman fabricated a violent KKK attack in which she "self-inflicted" burns on 60 percent of her body.

Sharmeka Moffitt, 20, called 911 around 8 p.m. on Sunday from a park in Winnsboro, La., to report that three men in white hoodies had doused her in liquid and set her on fire. A racial slur and "KKK" were written on her car. Police were at the scene within minutes of the call, but found no suspects.

The community rallied around Moffitt, who is in the hospital with severe burns, and several law enforcement agencies immediately joined together to pursue her alleged attackers.

But in a news conference on Tuesday, authorities said that Moffitt's fingerprints were found on a cigarette lighter and on a can of lighter fluid recovered nearby.

"I feel hurt for the victim because that could have been my child, my sister or my mother, so I'm frustrated about that," Winnsboro Police Chief Lester Martin said at the news conference.

Police did not immediately respond to request for comment today and have not said if Moffitt will be facing criminal charges.

Residents were angered by the fake and divisive attack.

"She had all these people believing that it was racial issues and everybody was hating everybody because of this," resident Ta'Nikqua Smith told ABC News' Shreveport affiliate KTBS. "Nobody felt safe anymore."

Alice Prescott, another resident, said that the news of the attack followed by the news of the attack's fraudulence has strained the community.

"I'm absolutely frustrated because of all of the tension that's been placed on everybody," she told KTBS.

Others expressed frustration with the cost of an investigation that involved numerous agencies.

"This has been a very disturbing case for everyone involved and it has involved multiple agencies and a lot of hard work," Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb said at the news conference.

Moffitt is in critical condition at a Shreveport hospital. Her family has asked for privacy, but released a statement saying they were "devastated to learn the circumstances surrounding our daughter's injuries."

"We are sincerely sorry for any problems this may have caused and wish to express our appreciation for the outpouring of love, prayers and support we have received from friends, acquaintances, church organizations and government officials," the family wrote.

The family said they would be focusing on Moffitt and her recovery over the coming weeks.

Authorities reminded the community of how they rallied for Moffitt and encouraged them to continue doing so.

"When we felt it was an attack situation, our community was coming together," Cobb said. "They were coming in to support her from all sides and we should continue to do that."

This is not the first time someone has faked an allegedly hate crime.

Earlier this year, a Nebraska woman was arrested for faking an anti-gay hate crime in which she claimed three masked men bound her, cut words into her skin and spray-painted slurs on her wall before setting her house on fire.

Charlie Rogers, 33, had told police that the three assailants broke into her Lincoln, Neb., home on July 22.

Rogers, a lesbian and a former University of Nebraska women's basketball star, became a face for anti-gay hate crimes after the alleged attack. Reports of the alleged assault outraged the gay community, and hundreds of people participated in rallies outside the Nebraska capitol building, and at a park in Omaha.

Police charged Rogers with false reporting after disclosing evidence that contradicted her story and pointed to a faked attack.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, told ABCNews.com today, "There's a real danger in the entire notion of hate crimes coming into question."

"These kinds of reports, for whatever reason they are made, are incredibly destructive," Potok said. "[They] cast into doubt the very real number of hate crimes that happen every day."

About 200,000 hate crimes occur in the United States every year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, with a "vastly smaller number that turn out to be bogus."

Potok added, "We spoke to people on the [Winnsboro]City Council yesterday and heard universally that this was a town that was at peace in terms of race relations."

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