TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The tall tale of a phony robbery at the University of South Florida was so odd, no one could thought the case could get any more bizarre. The original facts were startling, alarming and terrifying for USF students, along with their family members.
On Tuesday night a 19-year-old female student told police she experienced a horrifying incident. Fatou Gueye told detectives two men in their 20s followed her as she walked through the MLK plaza, a popular spot on campus.
It was 9 p.m. that night, and the teen claimed the men approached her. The young coed claimed that seconds later the two men grabbed her backpack and necklace, trying to take it from her. In the end, she maintained, the dangerous duo got away with nothing and took off running. The university acted quickly.
A mass text was sent through the MoBull Messenger System. USF students, and their parents all over the country and the world, were notified in an alert. Police provided a description of the men, along with the location and the facts of the incident.
What no one knew at the time was the entire story was an epic lie, according to the University of South Florida Police Department. “It was disappointing; that sort of thing should not happen here. That’s not what the University of South Florida is all about,” the USF Police Chief said.
It was a terrifying 24 hours for everyone involved. Detectives with USF worked through the night, frantic to find the two suspects, who we now know never existed.
Investigators combed through hours and hours of surveillance footage. K9 officers were brought from both the Tampa Police Department and The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to try and track a scent and make an arrest.
That’s when things got interesting. Officers made a surprising arrest. The young woman who made the accusations turned into the suspect.
After repeatedly approaching the foreign exchange student from Senegal, investigators began to notice that things didn’t quite add up, they said. Then, footage from nearby surveillance cameras failed to show anything similar to the story the teenager had described.
Indeed, video doesn’t lie.
As the facts of the case were put together like pieces of a puzzle, the truth became glaringly clear. There was no robbery, police said. There were no two men on the loose.
This student, the chief maintains, fabricated the entire story.
The real story actually began a week prior, on Election Day. The same teenage student reached out to police when she received a threatening, concerning letter underneath her dorm room door. Someone had slipped it inside without leave a name.
At this point in the case, the contents of the letter, along with the author, are not being released to the media. Gueye wasn’t the only person to receive the anonymous note. Four other students in her dorm also got the mystery messages. The young woman alerted police immediately.
Many questions remain in this investigation. Investigators are looking into whether the foreign exchange student faked the robbery to retaliate or whether she was bullied in the letter to the point she fired back. Police are following each and every lead.
After the young woman received the letter at the crux of the Election, it was a week to the day that the phony robbery story was launched.
The Senegalese student was arrested late Wednesday night, accused of the misdemeanor crime of providing false information to a police officer. She bonded out of jail early Thursday morning. USF police alerted the consulate in Senegal.
It is not known if the young woman currently has legal representation in the United States.
In the end, students are still left on edge, even though the police say the robbery never occurred. The letters are causing angst and concern.
“I don’t want to get my marching papers. I don’t like to make a comment. I’m afraid of retaliation,” a foreign exchange student told News Channel 8. That student did not want to provide us with a name.
WFLA.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.