The prankster who posted a false Internet report about a Howard County soldier 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 19-year-old son, Army Pvt. Ryan King, who is stationed in Korea, called her cell 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.
But 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 did go to the police station to file a report but decided to leave before doing so. She said she simply was not up for it because the hoax had taken 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.
Earlier this week, Howard High School's alumni Web site displayed a message, purportedly written by Craig, saying her son had been killed somewhere 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 whether he would face disciplinary action.
"By and large, commanders can expect of their soldiers a certain decorum and behavior in keeping with military bearing," he said. "Then if they feel that's been violated, they can ... determine if action needs to be taken."
At Howard High yesterday, Day, the principal, began the school day by announcing that the Class of 2000 wrestler was alive and well. The mood turned from relief to annoyance later in the day, when word spread that King was suspected in the hoax.
"What I would say can't be published," said retired Army Maj. Sullivan Brown, Howard High's junior ROTC instructor who had offered his condolences the day before. "It's amazing."
Recalling his former recruit, Brown said: "He was a person that liked attention and sometimes he did not use discretion in getting that attention. He was a jokester. But I never thought he'd do something like this."