news

David Briscoe said he protected his students in a school shooting. He was never there. 

When something horrific happens in the world everyone pauses and takes a moment to reflect on how lucky they are, how sorry they are, and how sh*t some people in the world are.

9/11, Lindt Cafe siege, the Christchurch bombings, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The list is horrifically long.

Whenever an incident of mass murder takes place in our world, we all somehow find a way to relate to it, and make it relevant in our lives.

lindtcafepic
As Australians we put ourselves in the shoes of the hostages held inside Sydney's Lindt Cafe. Image: Seven.

Perhaps we've got kids the same age, or have visited that landmark before, or know someone who lived around the block from the crime scene. It's human instinct to sense the significance and find a way to mark the moment in our own lives.

But there are certain people in society who take that idea one step further and literally insert themselves into the narrative.

Steve Rannazzisi lied about his involvement in 9/11. Post continues after video.

Video via Howard Stern
ADVERTISEMENT

Here are four instances where individuals lied about being a part of a harrowing story of survival:

The Santa Fe High School shooting.

In May 2018, ten people were killed and 13 were wounded in a school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas.

The alleged gunman, 17-year-old student Dimitrios Pagourtzis, is still awaiting conviction but has been charged with capital murder and faces 40 years to life.

At the time of the tragedy, a man by the name of David Briscoe gave interviews to all the major media outlets - Time, CNN, The Wall Street Journal. 

Ten people died in the Santa Fe school shooting. Image: Getty.

He told them he was a substitute English teacher at the school and gave harrowing, graphic and detailed descriptions of the shooting as it happened.

He described the shots being fired, sounds of groaning, and talked about barricading the doors and shutting off the lights.

But it was all a lie.

In April this year, a journalist at the Texas Tribune reached out to Briscoe to discuss the tragedy one year on.

Alex Samuels spoke to Briscoe for 30 minutes and he again rattled off things he remembered from inside the school that day. He talked about how he had become isolated and depressed since witnessing the shooting.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Samuels smelt a rat, and after some digging the journalist discovered that nobody by the name David Briscoe was employed by the local school district. There were also no records of someone by that name in Texas, at the time of the shooting.

Briscoe had inserted himself into a story he played no part in.

The 9/11 lies.

Tania Head told reporters she crawled through the chaos and carnage of the 78th floor of the World Trade Centre's South Tower after a plane was deliberately flown into it on September 11, 2001.

She told a story about a man whose dying wish was to have his inscribed wedding band returned to his widow. She also said her fiance Dave was killed in the North Tower. She repeated this story multiple times.

Her touching and terrifying account of the tragedy that took 2,996 lives was posted online as part of the official World Trade Centre Survivors' Network.

An aerial view following the attack. Image via NYC Police.
An aerial view following the 9/11 attack. Image via NYC Police.

She later became the president of the network and was invited to speak at university conferences and lead tours at the WTC Visitor Centre.

In 2007 the New York Times caught her out, and it was revealed that she had never been employed by the company she claimed to work for inside the World Trade Centre.

Tania Head
Tania Head. Image: National Geographic Channel.
ADVERTISEMENT

In reality at the time of the tragedy she was in her native Barcelona, nowhere near New York City.

Comedian Steve Rannazzisi also lied about escaping the 9/11 attacks in a story that appeared to just snowball out of control.

He told an interview in 2009 that he "worked on the 54th floor of the second tower, but got to the streets before the second plane hit."

It was a lie, one he made his girlfriend at the time play along with as well.

Steve Rannazzisi
Steve Rannazzisi lied for years about his involvement in 9/11. Image: Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic.
ADVERTISEMENT

Again it was the New York Times who uncovered his fabrications, and broke the news in 2017 that he was actually in Midtown at the time of the crash. By this point, Rannazzisi had spent years recounting his fake experience for interviewers.

He fronted up to a 40 minute interview with Howard Stern to apologise and had this to say when Stern asked if he was psychologically disturbed:

“Psychologically disturbed ― I don’t know if that’s the way to put it. I do see someone and am starting to figure out more about myself: codependency and wanting people to like me and to make people happy.

"The 'why' is still unclear. [But] it wasn't calculated at all," he told Stern.

The London bombings doctor.

Richmal Oates-Whitehead was working at the medical publication BMJ Knowledge in central London when the number 30 bus was blown up outside her building in 2005.

It was the fourth explosion that morning, and was part of a coordinated attack on the city's transport system that killed 56 people.

The then 35-year-old told police she was a doctor and rushed to help the victims, tending to the injured and even pronounced one patient dead.

Richmal Oates-Whitehead had spun a huge web of lies that went beyond her involvement in the bombings. Image: NZ Herald.

Her involvement made front page news in her native New Zealand.

Her lies however went deeper than her fake involvement in the bombings, she'd been lying since she moved to London in 2001.

Oates-Whitehead was actually a radiation therapist but had lied to her employers and told them she had a medical degree when she didn't. She'd also told her friends she was the victim of a stalker, had multiple sclerosis and had lost twin babies who were born prematurely.

ADVERTISEMENT

Five weeks after the bombings Oates-Whitehead died in her flat from natural causes according to Stuff.co.nz, and an inquest into the bombings has since revealed she played no part in treating the dying.

Why do they do it?

Well, it's a different story and no doubt a different motive in each of these cases.

Rannazzisi claimed he couldn't really explain his "why" but it appears to have been in part just a white lie that he told for popularity that spiralled.

Oates-Whitehead's lies on the other hand were a continuation of a much wider web and a much more serious problem.

As for others who feel a compulsion to contribute, is it FOMO? Do they want notoriety? Sympathy?

In 2016 a group of psychologists gave a name to a person's "need for drama" which could help us make sense of this complicated phenomena.

The University of Texas study called it Defining a Need for Drama (NFD) which they describe as "a compound personality trait in which individuals manipulate others from a position of perceived victimisation".

Those that scored high on the NFD test the psychologists came up with, were also more likely to display so-called dark triad personality traits, such as non-clinical psychopathy, non-clinical narcissism, and Machiavellianism.

We could also look to Munchausen syndrome as a way to comprehend why someone might continue to live with lies of this magnitude.

Munchausen is a mental disorder in which a 'patient' fakes illness to gain attention and sympathy.

In a 2013 article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology it was argued that there is a "neural overlap" between imagination, memory and empathy.

Functional neuro-imaging studies have shown a "shared constellation of brain regions" lights up when patients are asked to recall a personal experience and when they are prompted to empathise with another person.

For the four cases in this article it could be one, none, or a combination of these explanations.

But there's no doubt their actions are profoundly disrespectful to those who perished in these tragedies, hurtful to their loved ones and undermines the part bystanders and first responders played in these life-altering events.

00:00 / ???