KINGSPORT — A Minnesota-based Internet group confirmed Tuesday that a medical update Web site created for a Sullivan South High School student who supposedly had leukemia is a hoax.
The people responsible for posting the false information about a 14-year-old freshman student named Hannah Smith have not been identified, and the case is being handled by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, according to Sullivan South Resource Officer Jeff McKittrick.
Caring Bridge, a nonprofit group headquartered in Eagan, Minn., that provides an Internet forum for family and friends to receive updates on sick loved ones has deactivated two Web sites in the past seven days because of false, fraudulent information or data.
Chris Moquist, the company’s marketing and communications director, told the Times-News that a third “Hannah Smith” Web site was deactivated by the author almost immediately after its creation on March 10.
McKittrick said he began his investigation of the Web site when a student at Sullivan South came to him last week and said the picture being used on the Hannah Smith Caring Bridge page had been copied from her MySpace account.
An administrator at the high school had also started questioning the authenticity of the site after finding there was no student by the name of Hannah Smith enrolled at the school.
“(The student) was very visibly upset because others had been coming up to her and asking her if she had seen the page and because her picture was being used without her knowledge,” said McKittrick, who thinks the Web site was created to possibly solicit funds or donations from the public as part of a scam.
“We’ve thought about the prank issue, and I can’t see anyone doing that, but people have been known to do stuff like that. I lean toward it being some sort of scam, but I would hate to rule out anything at this point,” he said.
“We’ve asked (the student) to make sure that none of her friends had done it, and no one has come to her to tell her that this was a prank. (The student) was so upset that she came to me about it.
“Officials at the school have also been contacted by people in the community wanting to help the family by sending cards and donations, and we have told them that this is probably a scam. The Make-A-Wish Foundation had also contacted the school.”
The biographical entry posted on the site described Hannah as “a very active and hyper 14-year-old girl that most people love and adore” and who attends a gymnastics academy in the Tri-Cities.
The daily journal postings on the Web site, which were made by someone claiming to be Hannah’s mother and supposedly by the teenager herself, gave extensive details on the chemotherapy treatments and how she was conducting prayer devotionals with other children in the hospital she was staying in, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
McKittrick said officials with the hospital told him that there was not a patient by that name being treated at Vanderbilt.
Moquist said instances of fraudulent Web sites such as this have been rare in the 11 years they have been in operation, but they do treat any situation like this one very seriously.
McKittrick also noted that his office and other personnel continually stress the importance of being cautious with teen students when using Internet sites like MySpace.
“The Internet is a public domain, which means anyone can try and get anything from what you are working with, including pictures, so we are always telling them to try and be careful with what they post and what they use,” McKittrick said.