Emily’s Runaway Imagination

On Mother’s Day, a post from a recent widower went viral on Facebook.


Dana Dirr, wife of JS and the mother of cancer patient “Warrior Eli” Dirr, had been in a car accident the day before.  She held on long enough to give birth to her eleventh child but then passed away.  A family already struggling with a son suffering from his fourth relapse of cancer now had to pull themselves together after losing their wife and mother.  Life truly didn’t seem fair for one family to suffer so much.

Here’s a cache of the family’s Facebook page created to share updates about Eli’s cancer battle.  The page had 1100 fans before Dana’s death was announced.  In the early morning hours of May 14, that number had swelled to over 6600.

Dana’s survivors didn’t ask for money, flowers or gifts to help ease their pain.  Instead, a page was set up with a children’s cancer charity and readers of the Warrior Eli Facebook page were asked to donate to the foundation in memory of Dana Dirr.


By 3 AM on May 14, the family’s goal of raising $1000 in honor of Dana Dirr had already been exceeded.

At 3:30 AM, the Warrior Eli Facebook page was deleted and the profiles of Eli’s parents, JS and Dana Dirr, became private.  Why?  This blog was created.  Hundreds of people all over the world, those who had been online friends with “Dana and JS” and those who had been moved by the story of Dana’s death, came together and researched the story, gathered evidence and, in less than 24 hours, proved that “Warrior Eli” was a hoax and that the woman behind the curtain was a medical student from Ohio.

The first clue that something was off about the story of Dana’s death was when no news agencies carried stories about a young mother of eleven, an accomplished trauma surgeon in Canada, had died on Mother’s Day after delivering a healthy baby girl.  That seems like the kind of story that the media would jump on immediately, but 24 hours after Dana’s death, nothing.

A bunch of ladies in a community devoted to talking about another emotionally manipulative blogger started to become more and more suspicious of the story of Dana’s death.  When several started to take a closer look at pictures posted online of the Dirr children, it became clear there were no group shots of all  of them together.  We started using tineye.com and Google image search to see if we could find the children’s pictures anywhere else on the web,

Bingo.  JS and Dana’s twins, Lily and Jude


They turned out to actually be Adam and Kate, the children of Tertia Loebenberg Albertyn, a popular blogger in South Africa.

Many other examples of the Dirrs stealing pictures from around the web and claiming they were snapshots from their own lives were found.

It was puzzling because, from Facebook, JS and Dirr looked so real.  Each had hundreds of friends and they were tagged in dozens of their friends’ posts and pictures.  Both Dirrs had many albums filled with pictures, even participating in those photo a day challenges.  Friends posted on their walls constantly.  These didn’t look like sock puppet profiles.

A closer look at the friends’ profiles, however, showed that all the friends were basically obsessed with talking about Eli’s cancer battle.  Almost all the friends “liked” two Facebook pages, Squeeze the Day and Fla-Vor-Ice.  Profile picture after profile picture of the Dirr’s friends were found elsewhere on the net.  We figured out originally that whoever was behind the hoax had at least 25 Facebook profiles devoted to making his or her story look legitimate.

Eventually we’d identify 71 fake Facebook profiles.

By now, we’d realized that Dana Dirr was fake, her husband and children didn’t exist and her son Eli really wasn’t suffering from cancer.  The lengths to which the person behind the hoax went to in order to make the story look real were staggering.


The family had a CaringBridge page that went back five years and documented every aspect of Eli’s cancer treatment.  JS also had a Xanga journal, a MySpace blog and a huge presence on an online photo sharing site, Mobog.  All of these were updated often, included tons of (stolen) pictures and had very detailed stories about life in Canada.  JS also maintained an extensive Yahoo! Answers account, answering questions from parents of cancer patients, looking for emotional support for his family and even asking how much to pay a babysitter.


By now, I’d set up this blog and created an email address for people to send any information they could find.  Early on, a reader sent me a link to a genealogy site with information about a woman whose name had been on the list of donors to a fundraiser for a cancer charity that was set up to honor Eli.


I figured it was just a coincidence because I didn’t think whoever was behind this story would use her own last name.  Then people started emailing me about bracelets that the Dirr family had sent out to raise awareness of Eli’s fight.  The return address on the packages?  Rootstown, Ohio.


JS and Dana claimed that Emily was JS’ sister who lived in the United States.  She would be handling sending out the bracelets because postage was cheaper from Ohio than it was from Saskatchewan.  Emily sent out hundreds and hundreds of these awareness bracelets, sometimes including artwork by Eli and pictures of him that she had printed out.


I revealed Emily’s name on this blog.  She emailed me, at first spinning yet another ridiculous lie, but then called me and confessed.  I felt a great deal of sympathy for her and urged her to get help and move on with her life.  She sent me an apology to post on this site.  Later, I found out most of the sob story she had told me over the  phone was also a lie.  I too had been duped.

The scariest part?  Emily is a med student studying to be a doctor.  That might explain how she was able to pull this off.  It’s a labeled bag of chemotherapy medication that Emily posted on her Warrior Eli CaringBridge site.


It turns out Emily had also carried on cyber affairs with several women, all the while pretending to be a handsome man in his 20s from Canada.  She had dozens of friends whom she texted and instant messaged every day, including a young girl who was 13 when she met the Dirr family.  She’s 17 now and absolutely devastated that her friend was just an illusion.  Dozens of people who considered JS and Dana close friends and allies in the fight against childhood cancer have been left shattered.

Many of the parents who took the time to emotionally support and comfort the Dirr family had sick or dying children of their own.  They now look back and realize that they wasted time on fictional characters, precious time they could have spent with their own children.  Some parents have removed their support pages from the web, terrified that someone will steal their children’s pictures and pull this same thing all over again.

If Emily does have Munchausen by Internet, she needs some very serious mental help.  People who have this disorder do not stop.  When one of their stories is revealed to be fake, they pull up camp, move on to a different community of victims and start all over again.

Thank you to the huge number of people, all over the world, who researched this hoax, sent in exchanges they’d had with the Dirr family, took pictures of their bracelets, floated crazy theories that ended up being true and taught me that nothing is ever anonymous on the Internet

BlogHer Article

Here’s an article from BlogHer with an interview with Tertia Loebenberg Albertyn from So Close about the whole “Eli” mess.

A quote from Tertia in the article:

But when I read about the fundraising efforts and all the outpouring of love and sympathy for the little boy who had cancer, I got angry. Really angry. Because stealing my kids images and pretending that my kids belong to someone else is one thing, but playing on the emotions of thousands of people is totally unacceptable. That made me furious. Childhood cancer is my biggest fear. To trivialize it in that way, to use it as a hoax sickened me. I wanted to stop that straight away.

News Story on the “Warrior Eli” Hoax

This is a story out of KWCH in Wichita, Kansas. A local woman who had made a blanket for Eli still had her doubts that the “Dirr Family” was fictional… until she received a package with the blanket, a return of her donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand and a donation to her own foundation so she could make more blankets for real children with cancer.  Even the postage spent on sending the blanket to “Eli” was returned.

This handwritten note was also included.