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Woman invented kidnap hoax to avoid telling parents she would not graduate from UCLA, police say

May 14, 2010 |  6:52 am
Glendale police said a woman invented a kidnapping hoax to avoid telling her parents that she had been lying to them about college.

Sgt. Tom Lorenz told The Times that Nancy Salas fled her family's home Wednesday morning because she wanted to escape the embarrassment of revealing to her family and friends that she was not going to graduate from UCLA as she had told them for more than a year. The young woman's friends and family were under the impression that she would be graduating from the school with a degree in sociology next month, and had planned a party.

Salas, who UCLA officials said was enrolled until 2008, employed an elaborate ruse, police said.

On her blog, she wrote about the stress of homework and finals. To her friends, she spoke of applying for graduate school. A woman whose children Salas used to babysit, Sheri Jennings, said the young woman sometimes asked to come to work late so that she could attend office hours with a professor.

Her parents, immigrants from El Salvador, used to wear UCLA T-shirts and kept a UCLA chair in their living room.

She went missing Wednesday and was found Thursday in Merced, claiming she had been kidnapped.

On Thursday night, after Salas was flown back to Glendale, she admitted that she had been lying about her life -- and about the kidnapping.

“Up until she was going to face her family, she was sticking to her story,” Lorenz said. He said she confessed  around 8:30 p.m., telling investigators that she made up the story about being kidnapped because she was “idolized” by her family, friends and church for being a successful student.

“She wanted to get away and not face the truth,” Lorenz said. “She couldn’t face her family and friends and tell them that she was not the person she had led everyone to believe she was.” 

Salas told investigators that she had not been kidnapped Wednesday morning as she initially claimed, but had taken a bus from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Merced. Once there, however, Salas felt alone and wanted to return home to her mom and dad.  At that point, Lorenz said, Salas walked into a flooring store and asked employees to call 911, saying she had been kidnapped.
Glendale police will not charge Salas with a crime, Lorenz said. "Salas is an adult and can leave if she wants," he said.

Police in Merced, though, may be able to press charges for false reporting of a crime.
Police unfurled a massive air and ground search in the hills near the Salas family apartment on the day of her disappearance. When they didn't find any clues, investigators began to look into Salas' college life at UCLA. They wanted to know with whom she was associating and whether she had problems there.
“You have a life at home, but in college you have another life,” Lorenz said. But investigators were baffled when they learned that Salas had not been going to UCLA since 2008.
“That threw a wrench into the whole thing,” Lorenz said. “Nothing made sense.”
“At this point, it’s kind of sad in a way, but at the same time, the detectives are relieved that no harm ever did come to her and that she wasn’t abducted,” Lorenz said. “Now we’ll let the family put the pieces together.”

-- Kate Linthicum and Ruben Vives

Photo: Friends Johanan Gomez, 24, and Gustavo Toledo, 23, post signs during the search for Nancy Salas. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times