- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

WUSA-Channel 9 broke in with the bulletin Thursday morning: An infant was missing after someone stole the mother’s car with him in it. The manhunt for both was on. By the time the evening news rolled around, we had learned the truth. It was all a hoax. Why his mother would pull such a believable stunt has authorities scratching their heads. Our question today is this: Is the mother fit to care for that 3-month-old infant?

About 8:30 Thursday morning, Katrelle Regina Henry, 29, called police to say that she had placed her infant son in the car, went briefly into the house, and learned, after returning to the car, that both were missing. Police alerted the media. A massive manhunt was on. The description and tag number of the “missing” car and what the “missing” baby was wearing were broadcast by the media. The Amber Alert authorities kicked into gear. The mother, meanwhile, gave a tear-jerker plea on WRC-Channel 4: “Please, don’t hurt him. Just talk to him.”

Through fast police work, the car, a 1989 Ford Crown Victoria, was found about two hours later in a neighborhood that’s just a short bus ride away from Miss Henry’s. The baby appeared about 30 minutes after that — in the arms of one of Miss Henry’s neighbors, which is precisely where she had left him before calling police. Authorities, appropriately, have charged Miss Henry with making a false police report. If convicted, she could serve 30 days in jail or pay a $300 fine — small penance for such a costly ruckus.

It is worth noting that this was a hard lesson for the Metropolitan Police Department and news organizations, who likely are revisiting their respective roles in what ultimately turned out to be a hoax. They made the right calls — especially since an infant’s life was presumed to be at stake.

There is a fine point we want to make here: Is little Howard Warren Mitchell in safekeeping with his mother? That is the No. 1 question for the District’s child-welfare authorities. We await a response.

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