Volunteer Who Feels Duped by Sherri Papini's Kidnapping Story Reacts to Her Arrest: 'Honestly, I Was Shocked'

Papini vanished for 22 days in 2016, stumping investigators who struggled to find her alleged abductors. Now, authorities have arrested the mom of two, claiming she falsified the story entirely

Sherri Papini.

When 34-year-old mother of two Sherri Papini went missing after a jog around her quiet Redding, Calif., neighborhood on the late afternoon of Nov. 2, 2016, her community sprang into action.

"Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up every day to search with us," says Trudy Nickens, founder and director of Nor-Cal Alliance For The Missing, which organized a four-day search for Papini. "The donations that came in — I mean the food and the water and the cash. People just flooded to help find this lady."

But it was, according to police, all for nothing. On March 3, the Justice Department announced that Papini had been arrested and charged with making false claims to law enforcement officers after having told them that she had been kidnapped for three weeks and beaten by two Hispanic women whom she couldn't otherwise identify. The department alleges that, in reality, Papini faked her disappearance as a cover so she could spend time with an old boyfriend.

"Honestly, I was shocked. You don't want to think that something like this would be made up," Nickens tells PEOPLE. "It's just a sad situation that all the resources that went into her search from so many people, and then all the resources again disproving her story, which is significant."

Nickens is, of course, upset that so many people apparently wasted their time and money to help someone who didn't need it. But she is also dismayed that other people who might have needed assistance at that time didn't get it.

"Two days before Sherri Papini went missing, Stacey Smart, a lady from Trinity County, which is our neighbor county, went missing, and that case got very little media, very little resources and very little support for her family," Nickens says. "It took away from Stacey Smart. That makes me most angry."

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In retrospect, Nickens wonders whether she should have been more skeptical of Papini's story.

"When Sherri went missing, of course everybody was so alarmed in Shasta County, knowing that we had this young woman abducted off the street," she says. "But then I myself personally heard bits and pieces of stuff going on behind the scenes. I definitely questioned her story, and I hate to say, you almost felt guilty for that."

Nickens says that, in addition to all the volunteers, her heart goes out to the other unintended victims of this sorry case. "Obviously her children and her husband — I mean this can't be easy on their family right now. It's just not a good thing all the way around for anybody," she says. "It's just sad. The whole situation is sad, and I'll pray for her and her family."

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