Mother, Coach Reveal Former Auburn Basketball Player Faked Kidnapping to Escape College Pressures

Under the stress of being a student-athlete, Cece Sims disappeared from school.

ByABC News
January 8, 2014, 10:19 AM
The stress of being a college student-athlete led Cece Sims to abuse alcohol and fake her kidnapping.
The stress of being a college student-athlete led Cece Sims to abuse alcohol and fake her kidnapping.
Courtesy Auburn University

Jan. 8, 2014— -- When a Tennessee teen succumbed to the pressure of being a college student-athlete, she turned to alcohol abuse and faked her own kidnapping.

Sierra "Cece" Sims was a stellar and popular student in high school. Nurturing a love for music, Sims played guitar, following in the footsteps of her father Tommy Sims, who co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit, "Change the World."

"She had a lot of fun, like every other high schooler did, just a lot of, what we saw, good, healthy fun," Sims' mother Kathie Sims told ABC News' "20/20."

The high school homecoming queen was also gifted on the basketball court, once delivering 19 assists in one game and helping her team win three titles.

"Before we knew it, we were looking at some of the biggest colleges in the nation asking her to play basketball," her mom Kathie Sims said.

One of the colleges that took notice of Sims' basketball prowess was Southeastern Conference powerhouse Auburn University.

"I remember when my assistant coach came to me and said, 'You have got to come watch this kid play,'" Nell Fortner, the former head coach of women's basketball at Auburn University, told "20/20."

Sims earned a full scholarship to the Alabama school 300 miles away from home. However, the demands of being a student-athlete were tough, leaving her with no time for music.

"Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or Czech Republic or to Hawaii," Fortner said. "They are going to get a great education tutoring. But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at 5 in the morning, and they don't get to bed 'til 11 at night."

After only two months at Auburn, Sims, then an 18-year-old freshman, felt like she was under heavy pressure to do well in school and on the court, and had secretly started binge drinking.

"Because her energy and her personality was always so bubbly and nobody thought for one second there was a problem," Fortner said.

When she told her mother she wanted to come home, Kathie Sims said she told her daughter to reach out to people she could trust. So one night, Cece called her coach to tell her about a campus concert she attended.

"I was like, 'I am glad you are enjoying it, but, remember, we have practice at 6 in the morning, so make sure you set your alarm,'" Fortner recalled. "She goes, 'Oh yeah...I have got 5 alarms set.'"

But Sims didn't show up to practice the next day, which was instantly alarming to Fortner.

"I have never felt...the pit in my stomach, the way that I felt it, when we couldn't find Cece," she said.

Students came forward saying there was a commotion at Sims' dorm on the night she spoke to Fortner. She was seen barreling out the back door, onto her bike and into the dead of night.

Soon a search for Sims was in full force.

"The police, the FBI and the State Troopers were on it. Amber spread like wildfire," said Fortner.

Nearly 24 tense hours had passed after Cece Sims disappeared when a police officer on the case had a shocking encounter.

"One of the policemen who were searching for her almost hit her," Kathie Sims said. "She looked right at him and said, 'I'm Cece Sims,' and he just melted."