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Crime

Police Investigate: Is Viral Video of Gagged Girl Connected to Wis. Teen’s Disappearance?

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missingkids.org

Wisconsin detectives are investigating a possible link between the 2009 disappearance of 15-year-old Kayla Berg and an eerie YouTube video posted two months later which has recently gone viral — recording a man opening a basement door to reveal a young woman bound and gagged on the floor, PEOPLE confirms.

Antigo, Wisconsin, Police Chief Eric Roller tells PEOPLE that his investigators are trying to determine if the video is actually authentic or just someone’s idea of a bad joke or scary hoax

“I’m thinking it could be a bad joke, but we want to know for sure,” he says.

To that end, authorities are working to establish the identities of the man and woman who appear in the 7-year-old clip, Roller says.

“The video is pretty disturbing,” he says, adding his department “just became aware of the video over the weekend.”

The video (titled “Hi Walter! I got a new gf today!”) was posted on Oct. 11, 2009, but attracted relatively little attention until this summer. It has now been viewed more than half a million times and is the focus of multiple videos and posts purporting to analyze or debunk it.

The video has since been removed for violating YouTube’s community guidelines.

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Roller said Kayla’s mother has seen the footage, and she says there’s a resemblance between the girl featured in the video and her missing daughter, who reportedly vanished after going to her boyfriend’s house in Wausau, Wisconsin.

“When we told Kayla’s mother about the video, she was concerned about it and told us it could possibly be her daughter, because she can see and hear some similarities,” Roller says. “We need to see if there’s something to this video. If it is not Kayla, it could be someone else.”

Kayla’s mother, Hope Sprenger, told one local TV station the video “made me sick to my stomach.”

“It gave me chills,” she said. “It’s hard to explain.” She added that she still isn’t sure if the video is real or fake. (PEOPLE was not immediately able to reach her.)

The video shows a man talking excitedly about his new girlfriend, who he met at the mall, and their time together. The footage cuts away to the man standing in front of what appears to be a basement room — the twist being that a young woman, his “new girlfriend,” is captive and crying inside.

PEOPLE has decided not to post the footage.

This video was originally posted two months to the day after Kayla disappeared and had more than 940,000 views before it was removed from YouTube.

Roller tells PEOPLE his small department has enlisted the help of outside agencies in determining the video’s origin.

“Hopefully, someone recognizes [the man] from the video and says, ‘Hey, it’s this guy,’ ” the chief says. “I’m thinking someone should be able to identify him. If we find him and he says the video was a hoax, and he can show us the female who was in the video and she’s fine, then we can resolve this.

“If it is a hoax, we can move on.”

Since Monday morning, Roller says his department has been fielding dozens of tips about the video’s stars.

He asks that anyone who has any information about the video, or the case, call the Antigo Police Department at 715-627-6411.