48ºF

Trolls thought she was the mother of a missing Jacksonville girl. They were wrong

Woman with name similar to that of missing girl's mom was harassed online

Briana Williams was mistaken for the mother of a 5-year-old girl who went missing in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

It was Wednesday afternoon when messages from reporters first started hitting her inbox.

At first Briana Williams, a former Jacksonville resident now living in Ohio, thought the messages were spam. 

“I just ignored them,” Williams told News4Jax in a phone interview. The messages obviously had nothing to do with her, she thought. 

What Williams didn’t realize is that her name, though spelled slightly differently, was associated with the mother of Taylor Williams, a young girl who went missing in Jacksonville who has no relation to her.  

Taylor Williams, 5, was first reported missing Wednesday morning. Her disappearance prompted an Amber Alert and a massive response from law enforcement in Brentwood and at an apartment on the Southside. As the day progressed Brianna Williams, Taylor’s mother and someone who investigators said was the last person to see her alive, suddenly became a target of intense online speculation.

And since Briana Williams’ Facebook was public, her location still showed Jacksonville, and she had photos of a young girl on her profile, she was flooded with hurtful messages from people who assumed she must be the mother of the missing girl.

“I looked at my messages and started instantly crying,” Briana Williams said. “I had 32 messages in my inbox and it’s all hate mail. People calling me the ‘b’ word, saying that I should hang myself if something happens to this little girl. All this extremely rude stuff.”

Her mother suggested that she post a video on Facebook to clear her name. A short time later she posted the video and asked for people to stop harassing her and her friends. 

Outside of a similar name, Briana Williams did acknowledge a strange parallel.

“What’s crazy, the little girl Taylor looks just like my daughter. [My daughter] is 6 years old,” she said.

Briana Williams also said she happened to be in Jacksonville over the weekend, which might have looked suspicious to an outsider looking in.

“It just looks bad altogether,” she said. “People are seeing, ‘Oh, she was just in Jacksonville and all of a sudden when she goes back to Ohio this little girl is missing and her daughter looks like this little girl.’”

Briana Williams later deleted her Facebook messenger app.

Less than 24 hours later, Sheriff Mike Williams said in a news conference Thursday that Brianna Williams, the actual mother of the girl, had been interviewed by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and gave contradicting statements about her missing daughter and was no longer cooperating with investigators.

As of Thursday evening, Brianna Williams had not been named as a suspect or person of interest and the Amber Alert remains active.

Briana Williams said that her heart and prayers go out to Taylor Williams, and she hopes they find her safe and well.

“People just jumped the gun, and they don’t realize that they affected another young lady’s life by not knowing the full story,” Briana Williams said.