Friday, November 16, 2012

US town duped by sad tale of cancer boy

GYPSUM (Colorado) - For a brief, poignant stretch of autumn, people in this mountain town found inspiration in a dying boy named Alex Jordan.

He could have been anyone's little brother: a football-loving nine-year-old with a brave grin and fatal leukaemia. As his story percolated through the local news and radio station, it touched no one more than the football team at Eagle Valley High School.
Players signed a football for Alex. They pasted As on their helmets. They donned orange knee socks to commemorate the cancer ravaging his body. A Facebook page in his honour collected hundreds of supporters.
And when word spread late last month that Alex had died, the grief was real.
Trouble was, Alex was not.
It was all an inexplicable ruse, a fiction concocted by a 22-year- old woman who had worked with one of the football parents.
There had never been any Alex. The photo that had tugged at people's hearts, of a bald boy with a shaky smile, had been pulled from a cancer foundation's website.
The police investigated, but are unlikely to press charges because the woman, Ms Briana Augustenborg, never tried to raise money using Alex's story. She could not be reached for comment on her Facebook page.
"We all bought into it," said Mr John Ramunno, the team's coach. "They asked me, 'Why would somebody do this to us? Why would someone make this up?' That's a good question."
The story went like this: Two years ago, Alexander Jordan learnt he had leukaemia, then thought he had beaten it. But the disease roared back, and the boy asked to spend his last months in the mountains. He was a sports fan, and quickly grew to love the Eagle Valley Devils.
The story was told to parents, then local journalists, by a self-described family friend identified by people who spoke with her as Ms Augustenborg.
"The team immediately took Alex into their fold," the Eagle Valley Enterprise wrote in an Oct 24 article describing the support. The team and coaches gave Ms Augustenborg a football, a helmet, shirts and sweatshirts for Alex. They stencilled his name onto the fence ringing the football field.
Some parents and coaches were troubled by it all. Nobody had ever met Alex or his parents, or talked to them on the phone. Ms Augustenborg was the sole source of information about him. She promised that the boy would attend a practice or game, but at the last minute, a medical problem would intervene.
On Oct 25, Ms Augustenborg, who lived in the area, informed Alex's Facebook followers that he had died, and the newspaper published an obituary.
But people in the community had grown suspicious, and alerted the police when they were unable to find a death certificate for anyone matching Alex's description. The story crumbled.
The team was distraught. The newspaper published a long, apologetic account of the deception and the role it had played. Football players tore the orange As off their helmets, and said they were done thinking about it.