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‘It’s Just A Sad Situation’: Volunteer Who Helped Search For Sherri Papini Says She's Angry Over Wasted Resources
“Honestly, I was shocked. You don’t want to think that something like this would be made up,” Trudy Nickens, founder and director of Nor-Cal Alliance For The Missing said of the alleged hoax.
A volunteer who spent days searching for Sherri Papini is speaking out after authorities have accused the California mom of lying about the kidnapping to spend time with her ex-boyfriend.
“Honestly, I was shocked. You don’t want to think that something like this would be made up,” Trudy Nickens, founder and director of Nor-Cal Alliance For The Missing told People.
Nickens helped organized a four-day search for Papini after she disappeared on Nov. 2, 2016 while out for a jog in Redding, California.
For weeks, law enforcement officers and members of the community searched for the then 34-year-old mom until Papini resurfaced along the side of the road in Yolo County on Thanksgiving Day, bruised, burned and branded, according to an affidavit in the case obtained by Oxygen.com. Papini told investigators she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women who tortured her for weeks before one of her captors decided to set her free.
But now, five years later, federal investigators allege that Papini made up the story and had really been staying in Southern California with an ex-boyfriend. The Department of Justice announced last week that Papini was being charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud.
“It’s just a sad situation that all the resources that went into her search from so many people, and then the resources again disproving her story, which is significant,” Nickens said after the charges were announced.
According to Nickens “hundreds and hundreds of people” had shown up each day to help try to find Papini after she disappeared.
“People just flooded to help find this lady,” she said.
Nickens is upset that people wasted their time and money looking for Papini, but she said the search effort also took resources away from others who truly needed the help.
"Two days before Sherri Papini went missing, Stacey Smart, a lady from Trinity County, which is our neighbor county, went missing, and that case got very little media, very little resources and very little support for her family," Nickens says. "It took away from Stacey Smart. That makes me most angry."
Private investigator Bill Garcia, who had been hired by the family to find Papini, also told People the charges were “definitely surprising” although he had noticed “a little bit of a hint of something awry” while working on the case.
For instance, he said the cord of Papini’s headphones—which were found along the road along with several strands of her hair—had been neatly wrapped up.
“Typically, if someone’s taken against their will, you’re not going to find an item like the headphone cord tightly wound and sitting on top of a tuft of grass,” he said. “Usually they may be broken, they may be absent, some of a struggle possibly.”
He said it’s the “first time I’ve been hoaxed in 30 years,” adding that he had volunteered to help in the search because Papini had been the mother of two small children. He said what was “most painful” about the alleged hoax was that Papini told authorities she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women, drawing attention to innocent women as possible suspects in the case.
Now, he’s left wondering why she allegedly staged the kidnapping.
“I’m sure she did it for a reason, which we may not ever know what that reason was,” he told People. “Did she feel that she wasn’t getting enough attention from her family and husband and friends? Was she seeking attention? Had somebody made her upset?”
According to the affidavit, Papini’s claims unraveled in 2020 after DNA evidence recovered from the clothing she was wearing when she was found was matched to an ex-boyfriend, who later allegedly admitted to investigators that Papini had been staying at his Southern California home during the time she was missing.
“Ex-boyfriend told investigators that it might sound ‘bland,’ but they really just ‘talked,’ ‘hung out,’ and ‘ate food,’ but they did not go anywhere,” the affidavit said.
The ex-boyfriend told authorities most of her injuries had been self-inflicted, except for the branding which he helped her do with a wood burning craft pen that she allegedly told him to purchase, according to the court documents.
Investigators have also accused Papini of receiving more than $30,000 in 35 separate payments between 2017 and 2021 from the California Victim’s Compensation Board to pay for visits to her therapist and the ambulance that took her to the hospital in Yolo County.
According to investigators, money from a GoFundMe account set up by her husband’s friend to “bring Sherri home safe” was also later used to pay off the couple’s credit cards.
In a statement from the family’s publicist, Chris Thomas, the Papini family took issue with the way Papini was taken into custody last week, according to Record Searchlight.
“We love Sherri and are appalled by the way in which law enforcement ambushed her this afternoon in a dramatic and unnecessary manner in front of her children,” the statement read. “If requested, Sherri would have fully complied and come to the police station, as she has done multiple times before, where this could have been handled in a more appropriate way.”
The statement did not directly address the allegations other than to say, “We are confused by several aspects of the charges and hope to get clarification in the coming days.”
Papini appeared in court via Zoom on Friday, according to Record Searchlight. She’s currently being held in the Sacramento County Jail.