Vancouver, WA Amid growing speculation, a Vancouver woman who made international headlines for reporting that a black woman threw acid in her face confessed to police today that the attack was self-inflicted.
At a press conference this afternoon, Vancouver Police Department officials said they served a search warrant this morning at a residence where Bethany Storro was staying and took several items. Upon questioning Storro about what they found, police said she confessed the attack was a hoax.
Vancouver Police Chief Cliff Cook said investigators had growing speculation about Storro’s story, prompting them to serve the search warrant. Officials declined to say what they found in the residence.
"She is extremely upset and very remorseful," said police Cmdr. Marla Schuman. "In many ways, this just got bigger than she expected."
"It seems clear to everyone that we have a person here who is in a fragile mental state," she added.
Schuman said detectives turned their investigation toward Storro after continually coming across aspects of the case that just didn’t add up. For instance, investigators looked at the splash pattern of the acid, she said, and the fact that it didn’t run down Storro’s neck.
Schuman also said the time of day when Storro said the attack happened, 7:40 p.m., raised the question of why she would be wearing sunglasses.
Police officials said the interviews with Storro are ongoing, declining to offer speculation on a motive. They couldn’t say where and when she threw the acid on her face.
Storro had earlier claimed that on Aug. 30, a woman approached her on Columbia Street, just north of Esther Short Park, and said, “Hey, pretty girl, want something to drink?” When she declined, Storro said the woman hurled a cup of caustic liquid at her.
Police do not believe her parents knew from the outset the attack was faked. Schuman said Nancy and Joe Neuwelt, Storro's parents, grew suspicious as the investigation dragged on.
"They've been fully cooperative with us today," Schuman said.
Clark County Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Fairgrieve said Thursday that once detectives finish their investigation, the report will be forwarded to the prosecutor's office for consideration of criminal charges.
"This event had a lot of public interest, and I think it's appropriate that we review the investigation," Fairgrieve said.
He said potential charges could include making a false or misleading statement to a police officer, a gross misdemeanor that's punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Sources said other charges, including felony theft by deception because of all the money donated to Storro, are possible.
Storro's mental health will be taken into consideration, Fairgrieve said.
"I think we really need to see what the specific nature of the evidence is," he said.
There was no timeline on when charges would be filed, although sources say the case could reach the prosecutor’s office by next week.
The case, which drew national and international media attention, prompted more than 100 tips to police. Several detectives at a time worked the case.
“Between the detectives and the chief and (spokeswoman) Kim Kapp, it's been hundreds of hours,” Schuman said. “It really took a toll on department resources.”
Storro described her alleged attacker as a black woman, prompting a stream of racial comments in response to online stories on the case. At one point, The Columbian shut down comments after being barraged by posts linking to white supremacist websites.
Clark County is home to an estimated 8,819 black people, according to the state's Office of Financial Management.
That translates to 2 percent of the population.
"The thing that bothers me the most of all is, of all the people she could have said did it, why did she say that it was an African American lady? And the other piece is that she claimed that she was a Christian. I can't put those two things together," said Rev. Joyce Smith of the AME Zion Church in Vancouver.
"It's unfortunate," Schuman said about the racial overtone to the faked attack. "It seems like that is something that happens across the nation."
"It has had an impact on our community; it's brought negative attention that's undeserved," said Cook. "It was a disturbing report to me."
The Columbian was first to report that the incident was a hoax an hour and 15 minutes before the police department announced it at a press conference. And one week ago The Columbian ran a controversial story questioning if the attack could have been self-inflicted.
Columbian staff writers Bob Albrecht, Tom Vogt, John Branton, Stephanie Rice and Mark Bowder contributed to this report.