False accusation brings shame to the entire area

April 7, 2019

The alleged child abduction at the Huntington Mall didn’t happen, but it did expose things about ourselves that we didn’t want to believe.

According to initial reports, on Monday evening a woman told police that while she was shopping in a store at the mall, a man grabbed her daughter by the hair and tried to pull her away. She told police she pulled a firearm and the assailant fled the scene. Police found Mohammed Fathy Hussein Zayan, 54, of Alexandria, Egypt, in the food court area and arrested him on a felony charge of attempted abduction based on statements from the woman and her child. He was taken to the Western Regional Jail and released on bond.

The next day, police said they could not verify the woman’s story. Police said she gave several conflicting statements about what happened, with the woman saying she had overreacted to the situation. She attributed the incident to a “cultural misunderstanding.” Thursday, Zayan’s attorney, Michelle Protzman, said it was clear from the mall’s security cameras that the woman’s accusations could not be verified. No footage showed Zayan, the woman and her child near each other while in the clothing store where the incident allegedly occurred, Protzman said.

On Friday, authorities arrested Santana Renee Adams and charged her with falsely reporting an emergency, a misdemeanor. If she is convicted, she could be fined $500 or be sentenced to six months in jail.

Zayan is an engineer contracted to work in West Virginia. He was scheduled to return to Egypt soon, and in fact was to fly out of the state on Saturday. His arrest made the news around the world. News media throughout the United States picked up the story, and an internet search produces articles in Arabic and Vietnamese.

There is so much fallout from this incident. From the beginning, people on social media rushed to judgment. Adams went from hero to zero overnight. Some people tried to begin a campaign to publicly shame her.

It’s the same story we’ve seen before, whether it’s a big game hunter posing with a kill or a Kentucky high school student being approached by a protester. Too many of us can’t wait for all the information to come out. We have to form an opinion and act immediately.

Give credit to Barboursville police for sorting out what apparently did and did not happen at the mall last Monday night, and for the Cabell County Prosecutor’s Office for examining the evidence and adjusting the criminal charges to fit what police said were the facts of the case.

However, some have questioned whether police may have overreacted when they arrested Zayan in the first place. Police no doubt have a better handle on the law’s requirements in taking people into custody and questioning them, but some wonder whether more investigation could have taken place before they took him to court and had him arraigned.

If the facts had been determined prior to Zayan’s arrest, then perhaps the names of the Huntington Mall, Barboursville, West Virginia and the United States would not have been dragged through mud on the international stage.

Thanks to the internet, this kind of story grabs the attention of people around the world. An exaggeration or a misspoken word can occur so easily, but the damage can be far-reaching and last a long, long time.