The prankster who posted a false Internet report about a Howard County soldier's being killed in the war on terrorism turns out to have been the soldier himself, police said yesterday.
The soldier's mother, Cheryl King Craig of Frederick, was at the Howard County police station Tuesday night filing a criminal complaint about the hoax when her son, Army Pvt. Ryan King, 19, who is stationed in South Korea, called her on her cellular phone and admitted he was behind it, police said.
"She hung up and said, 'That was my son. He's informed me that he was the one who posted this information on the Web site,'" police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said yesterday. "She, at that time, told the officer at the desk that there was no need to file the report."
An officer phoned Craig yesterday to confirm the desk officer's account and make sure there was no need for an investigation. She told the officer that her son was responsible, Llewellyn said.
Craig disputed that account in an interview with The Sun yesterday, saying her son did not post the false report.
She said she and her husband went the police station to file a report but decided to leave before doing so. She said the hoax had taken too great an emotional toll.
"I did not speak to anybody there," she said. "I did go there, but I was only there about five minutes. ... All I know is, my son is alive and well and I've been through a lot."
King did not respond to e-mail messages seeking comment yesterday.
This week, Howard High School's alumni Web site displayed a message, purportedly written by Craig, saying that her son had been killed in the Middle East while trying to "scout Hill 401" with his Ranger unit. King is not a Ranger.
The message, which has been removed from the site, asked readers to "pray for my family" and to contact Craig at her son's old e-mail address.
News of the posting began to spread Tuesday through Howard High. After trying unsuccessfully to reach Craig, Principal Mary Day announced King's "death" to the 1,250 students over the public address system.
King's junior ROTC instructor called Craig that day to offer condolences, sending her into a panic until she saw that the information had been posted under her name and contained other inaccuracies.
Angered by what she called a "very cruel" hoax, Craig vowed Tuesday to seek criminal charges. "I'm going to get a computer expert, and I'm going to find out where this generated from," she said then.
As it turned out, police found, she had only to answer her cell phone to crack the case.
The matter is closed as far as Howard County police are concerned, Llewellyn said.
Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington, said King's immediate commander would decide on any disciplinary action.