Girl arrested for falsely reporting friend's abduction for "YouTube challenge"

An 11-year-old girl was taken into custody and handcuffed outside her home in central Florida on Wednesday after reporting in detail the fake abduction of "her 14-year-old friend," authorities said.

The girl, who faces felony and misdemeanor charges, later told law enforcement that a YouTube challenge inspired her to carry out the 911 hoax, which she thought "would be funny," according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

She had said her friend was kidnapped by an armed man driving a white van, authorities said, but when deputies and officers from multiple police departments were deployed, along with an aviation crew, to search for the vehicle, "no van was found."

Authorities say the girl continued to text law enforcement with updates about the fake kidnapping over the next hour and a half. Those updates included "a description of the male suspect and that he had a gun," according to the sheriff's office. She is charged with making a false police report involving the use of a firearm in a violent manner, which is a felony, and misuse of 911, which is a misdemeanor.

Sheriff's deputies arrested the girl outside of her family's home in Port Orange, just a few miles south of Daytona Beach. Deputies identified the property by tracking the child's cellphone, which she had used to send a text message to 911 earlier that morning reporting that "her 14-year-old friend had been abducted and she was following in a blue Jeep," the Volusia County Sheriff's Office said in a statement shared to Facebook.

The sheriff's office also posted body camera video footage of the arrest to its Facebook page. In the footage, four uniformed officers surround the girl in the yard outside of her family's home while she stands handcuffed in the driveway, with her face blurred. The girl sounds upset as she says, "I'm not going to do this again." An officer tells her, "This is going to be an opportunity for you to turn this into a learning experience."

The girl was processed following her arrest at the county's family resource center before ultimately being transferred to the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

"This kind of prank activity is dangerous – we're going to investigate every incident but today it wasted valuable resources that might have helped someone else who legitimately needed our help," Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said in a statement.

The sheriff's office said it plans to host five upcoming community forums over the next month "to help parents protect their kids from Internet dangers." The first one is scheduled for Monday.

Fraudulent 911 calls placed by teenagers and young adults are on the rise in the U.S., the Associated Press reported in March, citing federal investigators. These hoaxes and their link to online networking platforms have gained notoriety in recent years, partly in connection with "swatting" — when someone places a false 911 report with the aim of sending a SWAT team to someone else's home as a prank. The video game Call of Duty, which allowed players to meet online and play against one another, became associated with "swatting" after one infamous hoax turned deadly in 2017.

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