Teens stage kidnapping at Georgia mall to get YouTube followers, cops say

A teen yelled for help at a Georgia mall last week during an apparent kidnapping, her body restrained and her head covered as the kidnapper drove away with her in an SUV, witnesses reported in multiple 911 calls, according to local authorities.

He is going to kill me,” the girl reportedly screamed, according to Forsyth County News.

But the apparent victim — Ava Coleman, 17 — was in on the July 3 incident, according to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. It was all a stunt staged and filmed for YouTube at The Collection shopping center north of Atlanta in Cumming, Georgia, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Coleman and the man accused of pretending to kidnap her, Christopher Kratzer, 19, were both arrested — Coleman on Friday and Kratzer on Monday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

Reports of the abduction-in-progress started coming in around 6 p.m. on July 3 from the mall, prompting eight deputies to respond and try to catch the Chevrolet Tahoe driver who had left with the yelling teen, the Sheriff’s Office said.

An off-duty Gwinnett County officer ultimately stopped the SUV after hearing about the reported kidnapping, helped by police from Johns Creek, where the pursuit ended up, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities said their investigation revealed the pair “were filming a kidnapping prank for a YouTube channel video ... to gain more followers.” The Sheriff’s Office said the stunt “falsely alarmed the public creating an apprehension and panic that caused members of the public to feel unsafe and to report it to law enforcement.”

Coleman and Kratzer have been charged with reckless conduct and raising a false public alarm, deputies said. Each was booked at the Forsyth County Jail.

“If you want to create a social media following, I would strongly dissuade you from this stupidity,” Sheriff Ron Freeman said in a statement, adding that “good armed citizens might have been justified in using force to stop what they legitimately believed was a kidnapping.”

Before catching the SUV, authorities used its tag numbers to track down its owner, who told deputies his daughter was borrowing the car for a prank, according to Forsyth County News, which reports that the owner helped officers find the SUV and stop it.

“For 20 straight minutes, we had deputies racing across Forsyth County to help this girl, thinking that this was a true abduction ... that’s unacceptable,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Doug Rainwater said, according to the publication. “So many things could have gone wrong … We truly thought that there was a kidnapping in process.”

Authorities said Kratzer is also charged with a felony probation violation, because he was serving nine years probation after pleading guilty to criminal property damage charges from a 2018 incident in which he was accused of throwing things at moving cars, the Journal Constitution reports.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.