Fake Katrina Victin cons Hometown USA
Kim Horn had a sad story. Not long after she graduated from Mason High School, just south of Lansing, in 1981, she moved to Louisiana.
She returned home a couple of weeks ago and told everyone, including local charities, that she'd lost everything to Hurricane Katrina -- her house, her possessions.
The community, with the help of St. Vincent Catholic Charities, found her a home, furnished it, filled its cupboards with food, its closets with clothes.
Even the mayor's daughter pitched in, offering toys for Horn's 6-year-old daughter.
There was one problem. Horn hadn't actually lived anywhere near coastal New Orleans. In fact, her house in Leesville, La., wasn't damaged at all.
"We were all sucked in," said Robin C. Naeyaert, Mason's mayor. "What makes it worse is that she is from Mason. And she took advantage of her own people."
When Horn's secret was discovered, police arrived Monday at her new house to arrest her. She was taken to the Ingham County Jail and charged with felony larceny under false pretenses. If convicted, she faces up to 5 years in prison.
Horn remained jailed Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment.
"This community is hurt," said Martin Colburn, Mason's city administrator, who directed tips his offices received to the police. "The community had opened its heart and arms."
Even before last Tuesday, when Horn and her daughter moved into the home, supplies began pouring in from the community. She'd walked into St. Vincent Catholic Charities' Lansing office just after Hurricane Katrina hit and told them she'd lost everything.
She had no identification, no clothes and harrowing tales. She gave the processing team an address and ZIP code for Kenner, outside New Orleans.
"It is not unusual for evacuees not to have ID," said St. Vincent spokesman Cheval Breggins.
St. Vincent began looking for a new home for her. When they found one in Mason, the town laid out the red carpet.
"We cleaned the house for her," said the mayor. "People gave time, money."
The house was filled with televisions, DVD players, lamps, desks, curtains, beds, linens, toiletries, dining room sets, food, even magnets for refrigerators, because, as one resident said, "these are the things you accumulate over a lifetime." Naeyaert met Horn and her daughter last Tuesday to present her with the key.
"That's what you do for others," the mayor said.
The rest of the week, supplies kept coming. Dental services. Toys. Meals. They stacked up around the town.
Then on Thursday, the Lansing State Journal ran a story about Horn's tale. But some of the dates she'd given for the story didn't match what she'd told volunteers who had helped her. Suspicious, they called City Hall. Soon, the administrator asked police to investigate.
They arrived Monday with a warrant for her arrest. "Everyone is shell-shocked," said the mayor. But, she said, the town would do it again. "Our motto is 'Hometown, U.S.A.,' " she said.