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Woman charged in hoax

| Thursday, July 31, 2003

THORNTOWN, Ind. -- A woman who called the parents of a missing girl and claimed she might be their long-lost daughter was charged Wednesday with committing a cruel hoax.

"We don't know what her motivation was and it is impossible for us to guess. We live in an age today where people like to receive attention," said state police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten.

Donna L. Walker, 35, of Topeka, Kan., faces a felony charge of identity deception and a misdemeanor charge of false reporting. Her whereabouts were not known yesterday, authorities said.

Walker called the parents of Shannon Marie Sherrill and also is believed to have contacted news organizations to spread word about the possible break in the case, Bursten said.

He described her actions as a "cruel hoax."

Six-year-old Shannon vanished Oct. 5, 1986, as she played hide-and-seek outside her mother's mobile home in Thorntown, about 30 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Her father, William Michael Sherrill, broke down in tears during a news conference yesterday announcing that the call was a hoax.

"I wasn't expecting this at all," said Sherrill, who learned about the hoax about 15 minutes before the news conference. "I thought they were going to bring Shannon in here."

The identity deception charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, Boone County Prosecutor Todd Meyer said.

"I am very disappointed the case has taken this turn," Meyer said. "The case I want to prosecute was the case of an abductor and the happy ending is the child coming home. Unfortunately, that's not the closing argument I get to make."

Authorities had planned DNA tests to determine whether the woman was the child.

Jody Ames, an aunt of the missing girl, said the last several days had been draining on the family.

"It's been a very big roller coaster," she said. "We've been up and down, we've hoped for the best. We still hope for the best. We can only hope and pray."

Bursten said investigators did not know a motive for the hoax. Walker had given three different fictitious names to investigators in recent days, he said.

Topeka police Lt. John Sidwell said officers there were helping in the search for Walker.

"We've had no contact with the suspect," Sidwell said. "We're continuing to look for her."

Bursten said he expected Walker would be arrested soon.

"We know who she is, she can't hide forever," he said. "Now the rest of the country will know what she's accused of and what she's done."

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