(AP) Columns and letters published in a student-run newspaper from a girl who claimed her father served and then died in Iraq were untrue and part of an elaborate hoax, the newspaper reported in its Friday editions.
Claims published over nearly two years in the Daily Egyptian were from a Kodee Kennings about a Sgt. Dan Kennings, but the Carbondale-based newspaper said it was all part of a fabrication staged by a woman who claimed she was the girl’s guardian.
The soldier and guardian were fictitious and Kodee was another girl from out of the state who was apparently led to believe she was playing a part in a movie, according to the newspaper produced by students from Southern Illinois University.
Last week, the purported guardian informed the newspaper that Dan Kennings had been killed in Iraq. The newspaper identified the instigator of the hoax and the woman posing as the girl’s guardian as 2004 SIU graduate Jaimie Reynolds of Marion.
It said the hoax came to light after the Chicago Tribune took an interest in Kodee.
“In the course of checking out the details, a troubling problem appeared: The story wasn’t true,” the Daily Egyptian wrote in an editorial. “What began as a nightmarish possibility became impossible to deny. There was no record with the Department of Defense of the death.”
In emotion-filled letters and columns published in the newspaper, the girl described how her mother had supposedly died when she was just five and how she dreamed that her father could return from Iraq.
A story about the girl and how her father was heading to Iraq with the 101st Airborne first appeared in the Daily Egyptian on May 6, 2003. The last of the girl’s columns appeared in the newspaper in July of last year.
It is not clear why the hoax was carried out, though there did not seem to be any monetary motive, the Tribune reported.
Reynolds also had an acquaintance, Patrick Trovillion of Marion, play the role of Dan Kennings. Trovillion said he was led to believe he was playing a soldier in a movie.
He expressed dismay at the hoax.
“I am absolutely floored by this,” he told the Daily Egyptian. “It really does piss me off.”
Reynolds told the Tribune that the girl is the daughter of friends and she said she convinced the parents to let the girl visit Carbondale regularly, telling the family she was filming a documentary about a soldier killed in Iraq.
Reynolds also alleged that a Daily Egyptian reporter, Michael Brenner, who first wrote about Kodee, later asked Reynolds to help him with the deception.
Brenner adamantly denied that claim.
“Many of the people I have been talking to the last couple of years have completely betrayed me,” Brenner said. “I can’t believe Kodee isn’t even real.”
The Daily Egyptian conceded it had failed to follow basic journalistic practices.
“There is no pleasant way to put it,” it wrote in its Friday editions. “We didn’t check the facts carefully. We believed what we were told without verifying.”