HOLD GIRL ACCOUNTABLE FOR FAKE ABDUCTION

July 24, 2002 11:00 pm

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Roberts of Lake Oswego went for a run at Tryon Creek State Park Sunday night. When she didn't return home, her parents grew worried. Her mother, Debbie, went to the park and found Sarah's car parked at the entrance with the family's two dogs inside. Police were called. Everything pointed to an abduction.

LAW ENFORCEMENT officials, well aware of several abductions around the country over the course of the past few months including the two middle school girls missing from Oregon City, were quick to react. They organized a search, closed a major street that runs between Lake Oswego and Portland, and called out helicopters and search dogs. The search went on all day Monday. Terwilliger Boulevard remained closed throughout the day, adding to Portland's weekday travel woes.

MONDAY NIGHT, Sarah was picked up by police at the Northgate Mall near Seattle. She had called her parents and was driven home by FBI agents.

A sigh of relief was heard around the state. Sarah was OK. Then, on Tuesday, she told reporters what she had already told police. She staged the abduction and was apologizing for all the fuss she created. Police estimate the search cost about $50,000.

Sarah read a statement of apology, which was recorded by television cameras. The tone of her voice seemed almost spiteful. She didn't appear as though she understood the severity of her actions, that she cared, or even that she was truly sorry for creating worry for her parents and for thousands of sympathetic and concerned people near her home and across the state. She seemed oblivious to the resources that went into the search for her.

SARAH ROBERTS needs to be held accountable for her actions. The fact that she's a teen-ager, and teen-agers do crazy and stupid things, is no excuse for what she did. Her parents need to get her into counseling so she can come to understand why she did what she did so that she'll never be inclined to repeat it.

But the accountability should go a step further. Sarah needs to face charges of some sort and be sentenced to some form of community service. And she should have to pay at least some of the cost of the extensive search that resulted from her mystifying but sick 24-hour charade.

Parents live in fear these days because of the abductions that have been occurring. Two families in Oregon City haven't seen their daughters since early this year. A California family is dealing with the murder of their young daughter. Another Portland family is healing after their 12-year-old was abducted and raped in a Portland park this week. Imagine the pain the families are dealing with day in and day out.

Sarah Roberts needs to come to terms with the consequences of her actions. And others need to know that such stunts will not be tolerated.