The only unusual aspect of the Collins-Johns engagement announcement that ran in yesterday's Le Mars Daily Sentinel was that the Iowan news concerned a same-sex marriage: Le Mars' own Candace Leigh Collins was set to marry Maria Ava Johns, a young woman she'd met as an undergraduate of Texas State University, this coming May in the progressive state of Massachusetts.
Le Mars is a small Iowan town of 10,000 that calls itself "Ice Cream Capital of the World," because Blue Bunny Ice Cream is manufactured there. Although Iowa went blue in the last election, the Le Mars native tipster who sent us the announcement describes a same-sex announcement as a "big deal!" adding, "That's rare and a real risk for small-town print to make."
Except that the announcement seemed a little suspicious. The accompanying engagement photo looked like a bad PhotoShop job:
A quick Google search revealed that one Candace Leigh Collins of Texas State University was also betrothed to an Andrea Kathleen Kaufman, according to an engagement announcement that ran the same day in San Marcos, Texas, using the same photo. Also, the name "Andrea Kathleen Kaufman" was pasted directly from an online newspaper-engagement template, along with the names of parents Dr. Henry and Lisa Kaufman.
A reverse-image search on each girl revealed that the pseudo-engagement picture was a composite of two high-school senior graduation photos from completely different towns. These young women weren't Candace, Andrea, or Maria, they were Melanie from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Jamie, from Pensacola, Florida.
"That story is wrong and they did steal our photo," confirmed Will, the photographer who shot the portrait of Melanie. "The individual in the photo hasn't even graduated from high school nor is that her name."
"Yes, this is a fake engagement," emailed Crystal Tullos from StoryHeights Church, the Roxbury, Massachusetts location of the imaginary pending nuptials. "We do not know these people."
By yesterday afternoon, Le Mars Sentinel editor Joanne Glamm caught wind of the hoax and took down the announcement from the paper's web site. (It's cached here.) Reached by the phone, Glamm explained the removal like this: "There's a question I have regarding the item and that's my decision." She declined to elaborate, though said she wasn't aware that same-sex marriage announcements had been an issue in her area. (Digital San Marcos did not return our requests for comment.)
Why would someone bother to invent fake lesbian wedding announcements? Both sites publish announcements for free, so the fiction didn't cost anything. Is someone testing the same-sex marriage policies of small-town publications and these are the only two that were published? Or is this just the work of a dirty pervert? (A Nexis media-search didn't turn up any other related instances.) "That I don't know," Glamm said. "If I find that out, I will gladly let you know."
Image by Jim Cooke.