Mother, coach reveal former Auburn basketball player faked kidnapping to escape college pressures

Mother, coach reveal former Auburn basketball player faked kidnapping to escape college pressures

Credit: Courtesy Auburn University

The stress of being a college student-athlete led Cece Sims to abuse alcohol and fake her kidnapping.

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by Eric M. Strauss, Denise Ramundo-Martinez and Alexa Valiente

ABC News

Posted on January 8, 2014 at 2:32 PM

(ABC News) -- When a Tennessee teen succumbed to the pressure of being a college student-athlete, she turned to alcohol abuse and faked her own kidnapping.

Sierra "Cece" Sims was a stellar and popular student in high school. Nurturing a love for music, Sims played guitar, following in the footsteps of her father Tommy Sims, who co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit, "Change the World."

"She had a lot of fun, like every other high schooler did, just a lot of, what we saw, good, healthy fun," Sims' mother Kathie Sims told ABC News' "20/20."

 The high school homecoming queen was also gifted on the basketball court, once delivering 19 assists in one game and helping her team win three titles.

"Before we knew it, we were looking at some of the biggest colleges in the nation asking her to play basketball," her mom Kathie Sims said.

One of the colleges that took notice of Sims' basketball prowess was Southeastern Conference powerhouse Auburn University.

"I remember when my assistant coach came to me and said, 'You have got to come watch this kid play,'" Nell Fortner, the former head coach of women's basketball at Auburn University, told "20/20."

Sims earned a full scholarship to the Alabama school 300 miles away from home. However, the demands of being a student-athlete were tough, leaving her with no time for music.

"Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or Czech Republic or to Hawaii," Fortner said. "They are going to get a great education tutoring. But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at 5 in the morning, and they don't get to bed 'til 11 at night."

After only two months at Auburn, Sims, then an 18-year-old freshman, felt like she was under heavy pressure to do well in school and on the court, and had secretly started binge drinking.

"Because her energy and her personality was always so bubbly and nobody thought for one second there was a problem," Fortner said.

When she told her mother she wanted to come home, Kathie Sims said she told her daughter to reach out to people she could trust. So one night, Cece called her coach to tell her about a campus concert she attended.

"I was like, 'I am glad you are enjoying it, but, remember, we have practice at 6 in the morning, so make sure you set your alarm,'" Fortner recalled. "She goes, 'Oh yeah...I have got 5 alarms set.'"

But Sims didn't show up to practice the next day, which was instantly alarming to Fortner.

"I have never felt...the pit in my stomach, the way that I felt it, when we couldn't find Cece," she said.

Students came forward saying there was a commotion at Sims' dorm on the night she spoke to Fortner. She was seen barreling out the back door, onto her bike and into the dead of night.

Soon a search for Sims was in full force.

"The police, the FBI and the State Troopers were on it. Amber Alert...it spread like wildfire," said Fortner.

Nearly 24 tense hours had passed after Cece Sims disappeared when a police officer on the case had a shocking encounter.

"One of the policemen who were searching for her almost hit her," Kathie Sims said. "She looked right at him and said, 'I'm Cece Sims,' and he just melted."

 At the police station, Cece Sims told a frightening tale explaining her disappearance.

"Cece said that she walked out of the dorm and a truck pulled up," Fortner said. "It was a man and a woman, and they dragged her into the truck...they forced pills and alcohol down her, and, there, they kidnapped her."

But this wasn't the truth. Sims faked her kidnapping to escape the pressure she had been under. On the night students saw her storm out of her dorm, she ended up at a Walmart just miles from school and drank for the next 18 hours.

Sims later decided to share her lapse in judgment with the media movement "I am Second." "I didn't want to disappoint my parents. And so I thought, 'What better of a way than to say I was kidnapped?' That way, I wouldn't have to quit and be known as a quitter," said Sims, in a video posted on the website iamsecond.com.

"Clearly she was desperate to get out," Kathie Sims said.

Fortner, who has a lot of experiences with teenagers, said, "There were a lot of positives that were going to happen for her, but she didn't want to fail so she tried another way out. The only way an 18-year-old knows how to do it. They act impulsively and I think that's what she did."

Today, five years after the incident, Sims is still struggling to get back on her feet.

"It's hard," Kathie Sims said. "She's not out of the woods yet. But she is going to be okay."

The once rising basketball star is living at home, in counseling and playing music again.

"I would've pulled back the reins on her basketball, and helped teach her more about balance," Kathie Sims said. "And, if your child calls you from college and says, 'I don't want to be here anymore. Come get me,' hear 'em out."

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