DETROIT (AP) – The number of walk-ins for HIV testing more than doubled in
Detroit a day after local news reports appeared of a woman who falsely claimed over the Internet to have infected more than 500 people with the virus, city health officials said.
Police said she admitted the story was a hoax. But as of 1 p.m., 16 people had walked into the only city clinic where HIV testing is done and were tested, Michael McElrath, spokesman for the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness, told The Associated Press.
The clinic is open Monday through Friday and typically gets seven walk-ins per day, he said. Because all information is confidential, people seeking testing were not required to say why or whether it was in response to the woman’s claims.
The woman identified herself Friday to The Detroit News as 23-year-old Jackie Braxton. The AP tried several times to reach her by phone Friday, but she did not answer and her voicemail box was full.
FOX 2′s Taryn Asher spoke with the woman’s mother, and Andrea Isom says this hoax turned into a nightmare for one of the men she singled out. Click on the video player to watch their reports.
“I don’t have AIDS,” Braxton told The Detroit News. “I made the tape because I wanted to raise awareness about AIDS.”
The gossip Web site mediatakeout.com was the first to report on the hoax and posted an 11-minute video of the woman that the site also put on YouTube. The Detroit News and other local media outlets then picked up on the story.
On the video, the woman said she contracted HIV in 1998 and has been “pretty upset” about having to “suffer,” and has set out to “destroy the world” because a cure for the virus that causes AIDS has not been found.
She wore a bandanna over her face to hide her identity.
But police still tracked her down Friday. She voluntarily submitted to an HIV test.
Braxton said she saw people at the health department Friday waiting to be tested. She also told The Detroit News that the videotape was made to market her own porn site, operated with her husband.
Detroit police acknowledged that the HIV test results came back negative.
It is a felony in Michigan to knowingly transmit HIV. But because it appears no one was infected by the woman, she has not been charged, police spokesman John Roach said.
“We don’t see anything at this point under state law that would allow us to press charges, but we are researching,” he said.
Mediatakeout.com received the video via e-mail earlier this week, editor Fred Mwangaguhunga told the AP Friday.
“We looked at it, talked about it, and whether or not we thought it was a hoax and whether we should put it out,” he said. “She was alleging a possible public health crisis. The hope was we would be able to find out more information on the woman. We uploaded it onto YouTube, and that’s when we ran the story.”
Mediatakeout.com also contacted Detroit police about the video. Then the flood of calls started coming in. The Web site has since received about 1 million hits, Mwangaguhunga said.
“After the first day we got some tips. People said they know who she is,” he said. “One of our readers sent in a tip and said her name was Jackie and that he knows her. But that might have been part of the hoax.”
Mwangaguhunga said the Web site was not a party to creating the hoax.
“We’re a news agency. We would never do anything like that,” he said.
McElrath, of the city’s health department, said one positive did come from the hoax: It has prompted some people to get tested for HIV.
“It raises the awareness exponentially when you talk about it and it becomes an issue,” he said.
In 2008, a New York man was charged with sending threats in interstate commerce and falsely claiming to have tampered with a consumer product. He allegedly claimed in hoax Internet videos that he had poisoned millions of bottles of baby food, some with cyanide or rat poison, because he wanted to kill black and Hispanic children.
Like Braxton, the man in those videos wore a mask that partially covered his face.