Gibson County Prosecutor Michael Cochren has filed False Informing charges against 23-year-old Gibson County woman Hannah Potts and two others, Joshua M. Thomas and Maria S. Hopper, for "planning and executing an abduction hoax."
Gibson County Sheriff's Office (GCSO) Detective Sgt. Roger Ballard has also filed an Affidavit for Probable Cause against Potts, detailing the reasons why he believes she's guilty of the False Informing charge.
According to the affidavit filed by Sgt. Ballard, GCSO Deputies responded to a report of a missing person and were informed that Potts had posted a video file to her Facebook page. The affidavit says the video contained no "visual component," and only contained audio.
The affidavit goes on to say that the audio appeared to be the voice of Potts, describing her own abduction.
"The audio indicated that she had been abducted from near her residence while taking pictures of animals. Potts further explained that she had been abducted by an African American male driving a Maroon vehicle, and that she was pushed into the trunk of the vehicle," the affidavit reads. "Hannah Potts continued to state that she was currently being held in a room with a small light in the middle. The recording ended with the female voice saying that they believed that someone was coming."
The affidavit goes on to say that during the video, Potts explicitly states "you got to tell the cops everything, you got to show them this video so that maybe they can find me."
Sgt. Ballard says GCSO Deputies received information that Potts had recently befriended a Maria Hopper - who upon first contact with law enforcement, said that she had not seen Potts for several days. Law enforcement contacted Hopper a second time, encouraging her to reach out to them should she learn any information on Potts' disappearance. Hopper was also told that providing false information in the investigation could possibly result in criminal charges.
The affidavit says the FBI was now involved in the investigation, assisting by examining and compiling cellphone text and connection records.
Sgt. Ballard says in the affidavit that after examining the content of text messages that were sent and received between Potts and Hopper, indicating that Potts was going to be taken from her residence if she didn't agree to leave willingly, he believed that the context of the messages read similar to a "fantasy fiction story." A text message arranging for Potts to be picked up and describing a vehicle for her to come to were also examined.
The affidavit says that on the afternoon of July 26, Sgt. Ballard and members of GCSO went to Hopper's residence, where Hopper again advised that she hadn't seen or spoken to Potts and that she didn't know where Potts was. Sgt. Ballard says he also spoke with Joshua M. Thomas at the residence, who stated he hadn't seen or heard from Potts either.
Sgt. Ballard says he requested permission from Hopper to search the residence for Potts, with Hopper agreeing to the search, saying that Potts wasn't there.
Ballard says Hopper led him through the residence, where he observed a stairway leading to the basement. Sgt. Ballard says he asked about the stairway, and that Hopper said there wasn't anything down there, before leading law enforcement down the stairs.
Sgt. Ballard says in the basement, he observed a 3-foot by 3-foot piece of plywood secured by two shiny rotating lock-type pieces of hardware, which appeared to be blocking a small enclosed space in the basement. Ballard says Hopper told him that behind the plywood was "an area that was just full of spiders."
Ballard says after unlatching the door fastening, Hopper admitted that Potts was hiding inside the area.
Sgt. Ballard says behind the wooden barrier was a small concrete room similar to a coal cellar, that had no lighting and was damp.
"After being ordered to show herself, Hannah Potts then uncovered herself from the back corner of the area. Hannah Potts was wearing a fully functioning handcuff on her right wrist, and also had fully functioning shackles binding her ankles. At this time Hannah Potts stated that she was not being held against her will and wanted to remain in the location that she was," the affidavit says.
In the affidavit, Sgt. Ballard says that after some conversation, Potts willingly removed herself from the small room in the basement, at which point she was taken to the sheriff's office for an interview.
"During the interview, Hannah Potts advised that she had been planning a kidnapping event with Maria Hopper for at least a week prior to Hannah Pott's disappearance," the affidavit reads.
Ballard's affidavit says Potts said she wanted to have this experience for "research purposes in a manuscript that she was writing," and that Hopper and Thomas were characters in her story.
According to Ballard, Potts also said that she had been rehearsing the post she made to Facebook for a week, that Hopper and Thomas set up and arranged the room she was staying in, and that Hopper had picked her up and taken Potts to her residence. Ballard said Potts also stated that she placed the shackles on herself and that she had been provided food and drink by Hopper.