The strange case of Audrey Seiler was one of those stories that instantly captures the attention of a concerned nation. The attractive 20-year-old University of Wisconsin sophomore was reported abducted from her apartment in the early morning hours a week ago. The nation went on alert as hundreds of volunteers searched the backwoods around Madison, Wisc. in a frantic search for the missing coed. And a collective sigh could be heard when she was rescued unharmed later in the week. Then the story began to unravel.
By Friday, police acknowledged that the story was a hoax and that Seiler was seeking psychiatric help. The mood then shifted from relief to anger. This young student had not just lied to police and her family and friends. She had lied to all of those who followed the case with prayers and concern.
So now, what happens to Audrey Seiler? Will she become another sad footnote or an example for those who would concoct yet another story for some unknown reason? The answer is not an easy one.
The television talking heads were divided on their assessments Friday night. Some felt that some severe punishment was needed to send a signal to those who would mislead the public while others felt that the public embarrassment was sufficient for this troubled young lady. I try to balance compassion with concern. And Audrey Seiler deserves some punishment beyond a week's stay in a mental facility.
What truly concerns me is that her selfish act might lead the public and the police to take less seriously another similar case. Were another abduction to occur in some other location, police might first wonder if the case were true or false. That momentary indecision might be the difference between life and death in another case. That's the real damage that this lie has done.
We all know the fable of the boy who cried wolf. But there's a real lesson to be learned by that aged tale. Audrey Seiler cried wolf and now others may well pay for her warped decision. We can only hope that is not the case.
Jail time may be inappropriate. She is surely a troubled individual. But actions deserve appropriate reactions. And her actions were clearly wrong.
You feel sorry for this girl and for her family. You feel sorry for a community that must today feel betrayed. But once the sorrow subsides, you recognize that there must be punishment for this deed.
Perhaps in another time before the explosion of the instant mass media, this story would have been hidden deep inside a single newspaper column and quickly forgotten. But the rules have changed. And the actions of Audrey Seiler may well be felt in other communities when faced with similar circumstances. Let's just hope the price for her wrong decisions are not paid by some other young girl in some other town at some other time.