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For more than two years, a sizable group of internet users were caught up in the story of Kaycee Nicole. She was an attractive High School/College student dying from leukemia and she kept users updated via her online diary. Eventually her mom also started a companion diary to express the feelings associated with caring for a child with cancer. Many people became close friends with Kaycee Nicole through email, chatroom, and even phone conversations. When Kaycee finally succumbed, her online friends grieved like they had lost members of their own families. Well, there is one problem. Kaycee Nicole never existed.

Here is what almost certainly happened according to the original facts, Metafilter users' investigations, and a reporter who is investigating this matter:

Kelli Swenson was a middle schooler in the Oklahoma City metro area. She, probably with her friends, created an imaginary girl named Kaycee Nicole around 1997 or 1998. They made a series of personal web pages for the new girl to give her a life of her own. Kaycee's first website was on the same Geocities account as Kelli's own page, but other Kaycee homepages were made with basically repetitive information. There was no mention of cancer. Kelli used pictures of a local high school basketball star to give Kaycee the face of an attractive young girl. The person in the pictures (now a college basketball player) is not involved in any way.

At some point, Kelli's real-life mother Debbie Swenson found about about the imaginary person that her daughter and friends had created. She, for whatever reason, took over and turned Kaycee into a leukemia victim. Somewhere around this time, Kaycee joined the CollegeClub website. Kaycee told her stories of suffering from cancer and and became a popular member of the CollegeClub community. Staff members became close friends and traded care packages with the Swenson family. Kaycee Swenson was even quoted in a New York Times article about college life.

The story really begins with Randall van der Woning. He became friends with Debbie and thus Kaycee through John Halcyon's citizenx website. He runs a weblog called "adventures of a big white guy living in hong kong" and he offered to personally set up a weblog for Kaycee so that she could share her love and experiences with others. Unfortunately for Randall, his new friend and source of inspiration didn't exist.

Kaycee Nicole's new weblog became popular. The love and fearlessness displayed by a dying girl was inspirational. All of the weblog entries were actually written by Debbie Swenson. Debbie weaved a tale of remission and reaccurance that kept well-wishers locked on to the site. As imaginary Kaycee's overall condition deteriorated, her new friends did what would be expected. They sent cards, gifts, and possibly money. What exactly became of these gifts is not certain at this time, but Debbie never explicitly asked for gifts to be sent.

On Randall's suggestion, Debbie started her own weblog. She wrote of the pain experienced raising a daughter who she knew would probably die. Debbie gave detailed accounts of everything that happened to Kaycee, but most disturbingly she assimilated Kaycee into stories about her own real life children. When she discussed her two real kids, she would tell how they felt about Kaycee, how much they looked up to her, how worried they were, and so on. The level of detail is amazing.

After a few years, Debbie apprently decided that this had dragged on long enough. Just when Kaycee looked to be beating cancer, Debbie said she had an aneurysm and that she had died. The community outpouring of support was remarkable and those who knew Kaycee well suffered serious bouts of grief. This is also when larger suspicious arose. Debbie refused to provide an address to send cards or condolences, would not provide any real information about a funeral, and basically provided no real evidence that anyone had died. Most people believed that Kaycee was real because no one would attempt such a massive ongoing hoax. That was the stuff of outlandish conspiracy theories. Supporters assumed that the family just wanted to maintain an appropriate level of privacy. But a metafilter post questioning the existence of Kaycee was the key to the undoing of the whole mystery. Participants in the metafilter discussion began searching for proof of Kaycee's existence. None could be found. Even worse, evidence of a hoax emerged. After an intense and impressive community investigation, most of the facts became clear. Debbie admitted she wrote everything, though the details of her confession are questionable. Debbie refuses to reveal who provided Kaycee's voice for those who spoke with her on the phone.

Used with permission from the Kaycee Nicole FAQ, located at http://rootnode.org/article.php?sid=26

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