Social media posts claiming to be from an 11-year-old Kansas boy who vanished in 1999 are a hoax perpetrated by an ex-employee of the Butler County Sheriff’s office, the sheriff said Monday.

“I’m very comfortable in saying this is a hoax. This is not Adam Herrman,” Sheriff Kelly Herzet told The Wichita Eagle.

Herrman disappeared in 1999 from a home near Towanda where he lived with his adoptive parents but he wasn’t reported missing until 2008.

Tweets from a person claiming to be the boy began Saturday night and were tagged to news media.  Two videos showed up Sunday on YouTube.

Herzet said Stephen Chadwick Smith, 24, who made the posts, worked for a short time at the Butler County Jail a few years ago.  Herzet couldn’t discuss why Smith left the department but “he wasn’t here long enough for me to even hardly remember him.”

The sheriff said he knows Smith’s family and “He is not Adam Herrman.”

Smith has refused to be interviewed by authorities. The Butler County Attorney said Smith could not be charged with a crime at this point, Herzet said.

When the boy disappeared, his adoptive mother, Valerie Herrman, claimed he ran away after she spanked him with a belt, but she and her husband, Doug, lied to family members about his whereabouts and collected thousands of dollars in adoption subsidies for Adam’s care until May 2005.

Authorities didn’t learn of Adam’s disappearance until 2008, when his adoptive sister called state welfare officials trying to find information about him.

The last “good tip” authorities received about Adam’s disappearance came in about three years ago, Herzet said without elaborating.  Herzet has previously said he thinks the boy is dead and that his adoptive parents are the main suspects.

Although the couple were not charged in Adam’s disappearance, they served prison time for stealing $15,488 in state adoption subsidies before reporting Adam missing.

Doug Herrman died in 2016, and Valerie Herrman now lives near Howard in Elk County, Herzet said.

Herzet said one of Adam’s family members called him Sunday hoping that it really was Adam but “after she heard some of the stuff and seen some of the YouTube stuff, she was let down and disappointed.”

The sheriff said he hopes publicity from the hoax will prompt someone to come forward with information “and we could get the little piece of evidence or something that we need to get the Herrmans charged, or to find his remains.”

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