SIU Newspaper Falls Victim of an Elaborate Hoax

SIU Newspaper Falls Victim of an Elaborate Hoax
By: Lauren Keith

Carbondale, IL - "There was no casket, no body of course, because there was no Dan!” That statement alone should prepare you for what you're about to read. Student journalists at the SIU-C newspaper, “The Daily Egyptian” claim they're all a victim of an elaborate hoax that’s now teaching them an important lesson in the field of journalism: check the facts, and check them twice.

This story starts two years ago inside The Daily Egyptian newsroom, when articles were first published about a little girl's troubles as she missed her father who was serving in Iraq.

The child’s stories started a series of articles and much attention in the Carbondale community. Naturally, all who read the stories were crushed, when just two weeks ago, word came from the little girl and her aunt that her dad had been killed in the war.

It’s a heart-wrenching story of a poor young girl, alone with no parents.

That was the case, at least everyone thought, until Friday morning. That’s when the student newspaper admitted to readers the little girl's story and her father’s death are both a complete lie. The newspaper had been duped by an elaborate hoax.

"What went wrong, went wrong early in May, when the first reporter who wrote it did not check to see if there was a ‘Dan Kennings’ in the military," claims DE Faculty Adviser Eric Fidler.

In may 2003, the DE reporter at the time, Michael Brenner, claims he received e-mails from a little girl named Kodee Kennings. In them, she described her sad feelings as she missed her father, Dan, as he served overseas in Iraq.

Those e-mails eventually turned into several heartfelt articles, and even personal visits, these last two years, by Kodee into the DE newsroom. "We knew this girl in the newsroom. She came into the newsroom with military fatigues on that had the name ‘Kennings” sewed into them," says DE editor Zack Creglow.

Creglow used to share an apartment with former DE reporter, Michael Brenner. Creglow says "little Kodee" even came to the pair's apartment. Zack, too, was crushed, like many others here at the DE--- when they learned, the cute little blonde-haired, blue eyed girl's father was killed in the war.

However, when different DE reporters and staff at the Chicago Tribune did check the facts, they learned this story wasn't ending--- it was just beginning.

"The Pentagon said there was no Dan Kennings," says adviser Eric Fidler. So, DE staff called Michael Brenner, who now has graduated from SIU-C. Michael claims he's a victim of this hoax, too. And just asking his about his involvement was a lesson in itself for Zack Creglow. He knew Brenner very well, but he has to put that aside as an objective journalist.

“I've got to take everyone's word at face value now. I asked him, ‘do you need to worry about anything or come out with anything?’ and he said “no," said Creglow.

But that's not what Kodee or the woman who apparently invented her role says. In a five-hour interview with the DE on Thursday, Jamie Reynolds, of Marion, told reporters that Michael Brenner asked her to play little Kodee's aunt and that Brenner even gave Reynolds the name, " Aunt Colleen."

Meanwhile, DE staff claim Jaime persuaded a family friend in Indiana to come all the way to Carbondale to play the part of “Kodee.”

DE reporters also say the Marion woman told them that she was the one who, all along who wrote the e-mails, posing as Kodee, and that Jaime might have disguised her voice to sound like a child, each time she called into the DE newsroom.

It gets worse. DE staff claim Jaime even came in person to the newsroom with the little girl, pretending to be her aunt and that she may have paid a Vienna man to act as the girl's soldier father.

It's a visit Zack Creglow vividly remembers. “The man who appeared in our newsroom looked very different, than the man, whose picture was the memorial service. I had to ask Michael to point out which one was Michael, in those pictures because the man I remembered was much skinnier than the one pictured at the memorial service.”

Yes, you read correctly. The students had grown so close to little Kodee, and they felt it was right to attend her father’s memorial service, last Saturday in Orient, Illinois. They honored Kennings, who again, was a man the PIO officer at Fort Campbell, Kentucky told Heartland News, "never was in the 101st out of Fort Campbell!."

Still, members of the American Legion helped organize the memorial, never thinking someone could impersonate a veteran, let alone claim the man died while serving overseas.

And, according to members of the legion, someone within the legion was in contact with the girl's family about the memorial.

Heartland News has also learned there was a video of the father played during the memorial. It supposedly shows “Dan Kennings” speaking in front of a church either in Detroit or somewhere in Texas.

Meanwhile, Wayne Irvin also tells us the woman who brought the tape to the memorial was not the aunt, or Jaime Reynolds, but it was another woman driving a car with Texas plates.

Now, to be clear, Heartland News did speak directly to the public information officer at Fort Campbell, and he tells us, not only, that there has never been a Dan Kennings who served with the 101st, he says there has never been a Dan Kennings who served in the United States Army.

Stay tuned to Heartland News for continuing coverage on this story, especially as the SIU students now find themselves in the center of national news media attention. While Heartland News was in the DE newsroom, staff there received calls from the CBS “Early Show,” CNN, and NBC’s Today Show.