At home in Missouri with her twin baby girls, April Willis followed in the footsteps of many new mothers. Logging on to Facebook, she began to show off photographs of her daughters on the social networking site. But little did she know that a stranger was about to change their lives for good.
April and her husband Nathan live in Neosho, a city on the fringes of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. And in 2012 they welcomed two beautiful, healthy twin daughters to the family. Named Sophia and Vivienne, the girls quickly became the center of their mother’s world.
Parenting multiple children brings plenty of challenges, however, and April soon joined a Facebook group to interact to other moms in the same situation. But with hundreds of thousands of people using the pages, she knew that it was sensible not to publicize her real name.
Instead, April created an alias to use on the Facebook group – Precious Bundle, a reference to her treasured baby girls. And, of course, she began sharing photographs of Sophia and Vivienne. In her eyes, she was just proud of her daughters and wanted to show them off to the other moms.
At first, the Facebook group was a useful resource for April as her daughters grew. “I was in it for a good year,” she subsequently told The Neosho Daily News. “[I] learned how to take care of them, everything went great.” But one year later, matters would take a darker turn.
Just after the twins’ first birthday, in fact, April received a message on Facebook. Apparently, a woman had discovered a blog on the internet that featured photographs of Sophia and Vivienne – but with different names. So, was someone stealing images of April’s girls?
Intrigued, April consequently visited the blog – and was shocked by what she found. Run by a woman named Ashley, the page was filled with photographs of Sophia and Vivienne. From delivery rooms snaps to professional portraits, Ashley seemed to have hijacked everything that April had ever put online.
But that turned out not to be the worst part. In a sinister twist, Ashley wasn’t just uploading photographs of Sophia and Vivienne – she was also claiming that the girls were her own daughters, called Adaya Reigh and Kamberlin Renee. Furthermore, she had even made up her own stories to accompany the pictures of the twins.
In captions attached to the photographs, Ashley had added little tidbits of information, such as the claim that she had made the twins’ bows herself. Understandably, April was reduced to tears. “I realized at that time that my daughters had been digitally kidnapped,” she said in an interview on The Dr. Phil Show in 2016. This relatively new trend involves the perpetrators stealing images of other people’s children and presenting them as their own.
Wanting to put a stop to Ashley’s charade, April and Nathan contacted the police. But even though Ashley had a previous conviction for fraud, they were told that no criminal act had been committed. So the family instead enlisted the services of a private detective, eventually succeeding in getting Ashley’s blog, along with her Facebook pages, closed down.
Thinking that was the end of the matter, April and Nathan moved on with their lives. However, in 2016 April received another message on Facebook, alerting her to the fact that Ashley was up to her old tricks. In fact, it appeared as if Ashley’s deception hadn’t stopped since the twins’ birth four years earlier.
Determined to get to the bottom of things, April again hired an investigator, who was able to befriend Ashley on Facebook. But when they saw her profile, they realized that the blog had just been the tip of the iceberg. As well as discovering hundreds of photographs of Sophia and Vivienne on Ashley’s social media pages, the investigator also found something a lot more disturbing.
Ashley had gone one step further and decorated her walls with framed pictures of April and Nathan’s daughters. Indeed, shots of Ashley’s home showed Sophia and Vivienne’s faces peering out from almost every surface. Not only that, but some of the images had even been edited to remove evidence that Ashley’s story was a lie.
“Ashley altered a lot of the pictures,” Nathan explained. “The pictures had our girls’ names on the outfits they were wearing, and she would blur them out. A lot of photographs had my wife in a reflection, and she would blur that out.” On top of that, Ashley even left comments suggesting that the girls were suffering from health problems – imagined conditions that neither Sophia nor Vivienne experienced in reality.
During the investigation, April also discovered that Ashley was claiming that the girls in the photographs were her daughters, and that they were now being cared for by her mother-in-law. “I don’t get to see them at all,” one Facebook post from September 2014 read. “Hopefully that changes VERY soon.”
And it was this post that finally persuaded April to take drastic action. Afraid that Ashley’s obsession might cross the line into a physical threat, she contacted her local police department. Then, she sent a message to The Dr. Phil Show, the famous American television talk show that focuses on life stories.
Intrigued by April’s situation, the producers of the show flew the family to Los Angeles, California, where they were invited to recount the tale on air. And as they explained their four-year struggle to the host, it was clear that the experience had taken its toll emotionally.
The producers had also invited Ashley to appear on the show, however. And as the host quizzed her, it seemed at first as if the whole thing might have been a misunderstanding. In fact, she claimed to have no idea why April and Nathan were making these claims, and told the host that she was the mother of twin daughters herself.
Eventually, though, the evidence mounted up against Ashley and her guilt became clear. With both parties growing emotional, April explained the impact that Ashley’s deception had had on the family. “You’ve changed our lives,” she said. Ashley, meanwhile, apologized to the couple and implied that her behavior had been a way to compensate for the fact that she did not have children.
Today, however, the matter is still unresolved. While their daughters seemingly live in fear of the woman who they have dubbed the “scary lady,” April and Nathan are considering moving their family to another state. Meanwhile, new parents everywhere continue to flood social media with snaps of their beloved children – but are they really aware of the risks?