MIAMI — Meagan McCormic's tearful pleas and photos of her ostensibly missing 6-month-old son riveted Miami television viewers and sent police scrambling on Christmas Day.
But, police said Friday, McCormic made up the whole story -- even fabricating the infant in an effort to hang on to a boyfriend who lived 1,400 miles away. The boyfriend was coming for Christmas to see his son for the first time, or so he believed.
"She really thought this out and took great steps to try to fool everybody," Police Cmdr. Delrish Moss said. She even bought clothes for little "Riley Buchness," tucking them neatly into a bedroom drawer.
But some detectives doubted McCormic's story even as they searched for a missing toddler. They pressed her on a series of inconsistencies, Moss said, and she broke down early Friday and told the truth.
McCormic, 22, has been charged with a misdemeanor, filing a false police report. Police also want her to pay for the overtime and expenses spent on the search.
The search for Riley was the top story on Miami newscasts, tugging at heartstrings on Christmas Eve and Day. A sobbing McCormic blamed a French nanny named Camile for the boy's disappearance.
"I don't even know if he's dead or alive, if he was in a car accident," McCormic told reporters. Her boyfriend, John Buchness, stood beside her, crying too.
McCormic had a miscarriage in March, but told Buchness she'd had his child, police said.
Buchness arrived from Boston this week to see the baby, so McCormic came up with the kidnapping story, according to the arrest affidavit.
All of the pictures of baby Riley -- including one that circulated nationwide on an Amber Alert -- were plucked from the Internet, detectives said. Moss said police have no idea who the baby in the photo is.
The case took an emotional toll on detectives, other officers who joined the search and especially on Buchness, who believed his only son was in danger, Moss said.
"This poor guy was sucked in emotionally. Remember, even though the baby didn't exist, he thought he had a little boy," Moss said. "He flew down from Boston excited to see his baby on Christmas. And just like that, it's taken from him. To him, that baby was real."
The report also affected officers who missed out on time with their families on Christmas to join the search.
"A lot of these guys have kids of their own, so there's a connection," Moss said. "Then you start worrying about the most horrible things that could happen. We all know that the more time that goes by, there's more chance that this isn't going to end well."
When Buchness arrived, he was told that Riley was out with the nanny, police said.
As time passed, McCormic used a separate cellphone to call, pretending she was Camile and saying she would be late returning the baby, police said.
By Wednesday, when the baby hadn't materialized, the couple called police. They described Camile as a woman with a heavy French accent driving a red Acura that possibly had Massachusetts license plates.
Buchness wanted to break up last year, police said, but McCormic wanted to keep the relationship going.
She hid the miscarriage from Buchness because "she felt that the only way to keep him around was to keep the baby alive and away from the father," detectives wrote in an arrest report.
When she finally confessed, McCormic showed some emotion, but police aren't sure whether she was sincere, Moss said.
"Either she was upset because she was so emotionally invested in her story, or because the weight of what she had done finally hit her," Moss said. "Or maybe she's just one hell of an actress."