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Nancy Salas Overwhelmed By Stress, Faked Kidnapping, Police Say

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON   05/14/10 11:59 PM ET   AP

Nancy Salas Photo

GLENDALE, Calif. — A young woman who faked her own kidnapping to avoid telling her parents she had dropped out of college could be sued for the costs of the extensive search, but she won't face criminal charges, police said Friday.

The city attorney will decide whether to file a civil claim against Nancy Salas for overtime, helicopter fuel and other expenses, Sgt. Tom Lorenz said Friday, a day after she turned up in Merced and claimed she had been kidnapped at gunpoint.

The city attorney's office might determine that it's not cost effective to try to seek repayment of more than $10,000, he said.

Merced police didn't take a report and immediately called Glendale investigators, so they won't charge Salas with filing a false police report, said Merced police Lt. Andre Matthews.

Salas, 22, told friends and family that she was about to graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in sociology to prepare for a career in public health, but detectives discovered that she hadn't been enrolled since September 2008.

Salas stuck to her story about being kidnapped until she returned to Glendale and police told her that the game was up. Her parents – everyone_ knew the truth.

"But up until that point she had no idea the extent of the search that was going on, nor did she have any idea that our investigators had unraveled the facade that she kept up for two years," Lorenz said.

Salas told police she used her baby-sitting job in Westwood as cover, hung out on campus and complained about midterms on her blog, never letting on that she ran into academic and financial problems at school.

Lorenz said Salas told detectives that she dropped out after her scholarship money ran out and her grades weren't good enough to earn another one.

She intended to get her act together and return in a semester, but it never happened and she never told her parents. Instead she told her friends about applying to graduate school and continued to show up in a campus lab to talk to her professors.

Salas' father was recently laid off from his job at a trucking company and her mother cleans houses for a living.

Parents Henry and Joanna Salas were "crushed" when detectives told them their prized daughter wasn't studying at UCLA, Lorenz said. Her friends from the university and Chevy Chase Baptist Church, who plastered the neighborhood with flyers, insisted that there was some clerical error and refused to believe police.

"They didn't budge right up until the point that she told us why she did what she did," he said. Her parents "could care less about the circumstances that surrounded her disappearance."

Detectives questioned Salas' younger brother, Henry Jr. Salas, 19, because he said he was close with his sister and proudly told police about her plans for a career in public health. Police wanted to find out if he had helped her plan her disappearance or cover her tracks when she claimed to be at school.

"But he was just as fooled as anyone and she admitted to us that her brother didn't have any idea," Lorenz said.

Lorenz said the police department is getting e-mails complaining that they spent taxpayer money on an unnecessary search.

"It's the cry wolf thing. People are worried that resources were diverted and maybe our PD wouldn't react the same way that we did in a real case," he said.

When Salas returned home, there were at least 40 people jammed into her family's tiny living room waiting to hear from her. She confessed, thanked them for supporting her family and promised to be honest in the future.

"You all see how many people are here. It's absurd that I couldn't have the courage to talk with you," she said as her face crumpled into tears. "Why didn't I open my mouth? I never thought of you."

Her friends lingered outside the family's apartment, trying to sort out their feelings about a friend they loved and respected. They refused to talk to reporters and said the family needed time and privacy to process the ordeal.

The welcome home sign that hung on the door was gone Friday morning. A car parked outside still had a license plate frame that said, "UCLA Mom."

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Filed by Leah Finnegan  |