Vol. 3, Issue 16, June 21, 2005
Family Altered Photo of Missing Child to Get More Help
Charges may be filed against a family which manipulated photos of their missing daughter to spur rescue efforts, according to Texas officials.
"It has become apparent that this family has provided false information to law enforcement and to the media for the purpose of extorting a greater level of assistance in the search for Francine Keyes," said Texas governor Rick Perry. "I can only say that this news is deeply disturbing to all of us, and that we are not ruling out the possibility of legal action."
Francine Keyes, age 11, went missing from a camping trip with family friends on June 12 in Big Bend National Park. Thousands of law enforcement officers and volunteers spent days combing the park and surrounding regions. The girl was located unharmed on Friday June 17 in the company of an unemployed drifter named Gregory Stokes, who has been arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping. The initial euphoria of the find, however, was soon offset when the first television footage of the rescue hit the airwaves.
"At first I thought the kidnapper had dyed her hair, you know, to make her less easy to recognize," said Maria Baker, one of the volunteers who spent 50 hours last week searching. "Then I thought, wow, that week in the wilderness sure was rough on her. Then I saw a closeup, and I thought, man, did a bear get her too?"
It turns out that Francine's family had doctored the photo released to police and the media in order to make her "more appealing" and spur a wider rescue effort. In the picture, she is a perky, cute blonde girl somewhat resembling Lindsay Lohan.
"In actuality, Francine is neither perky nor blonde," said a grim-faced Perry. "In fact, her picture is mainly a testament to her father's skills with Photoshop."
Media networks are squirming, faced with the fact they cannot avoid airing pictures of the girl after the intensive media coverage of the search all last week.
"This is supposed to be the windfall time; the triumphant return of a photogenic kidnapping victim plays great with the 18-35 viewing audience, and can boost advertising revenues for months with follow-up stories on her return to normal life," said Stacy Umbridge, a producer at CNN. "For crying out loud. The girl's got a gap between her front teeth big enough to drive a car through."
The Keyes family has defended their actions, arguing that there are only five or six slots for widespread searches in a given TV season, and if they didn't give their daughter "every advantage" she wouldn't have made the cut.
"This season we've already had Natalie Holloway and Brennan Hawkins, two really high-profile cases with very appealing protagonists," said Jeffrey Keyes, Francine's father. "Heck, Francine used to scare the cat whenever she smiled. What were we supposed to do?"
The state of Texas has grudgingly concluded that it cannot charge the Keyes family for the search and rescue effort, since Francine's disappearance was the result of an actual crime (unlike recent runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks). However, CNN is considering filing a civil suit.
"Our viewership drops fifteen percent every time we show the real picture of this girl," said Umbridge. "I'm sorry, but CNN has journalistic standards, you know. At least put a wig on the poor girl."