ST. PAUL, Minn. – Since admitting she fabricated her abduction, Audrey Seiler has been mocked on morning radio, parodied in a play and featured in an Oprah Winfrey show on pathological liars.

But a year after Seiler turned up in a Madison, Wis., marsh as thousands watched on TV news across the country, her lawyer said the Rockford, Minn., woman has put the punch lines behind her and is focused on the future.

Seiler, a former University of Wisconsin-Madison student, is getting counseling, working and picking up the pieces of her life.

Pieces that are still a puzzle.

“She’s still trying to understand why she did what she did. She’s in counseling. And she’s focused on fulfilling the terms of probation,” said Randy Hopper, Seiler’s attorney. “Step by step, day by day, month by month.”

Seiler, then 20, disappeared March 27, 2004, from her off-campus apartment. She was found four days later about two miles away after an extensive search involving hundreds of people that cost the Madison Police Department about $100,000.

She told police she had been abducted from her room at knifepoint but later recanted when a store videotape showed her buying a knife, rope and duct tape – items she said her abductor had used.

What is clear, Hopper said, was that Seiler was suffering from depression.

“As a society we must recognize this as a disease – one that even great leaders have suffered from,” Hopper said.

Nancy Sabin, executive director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, where Seiler is doing her court-ordered public service, also defended Seiler.

“She is so far from being narcissistic or self-centered. … She didn’t cry wolf, she cried help,” Sabin said. “She was suffering from depression, and depending on the degree of depression, you can’t apply normal reasoning.

Rather than judging Seiler, Sabin said that parents, educators, the media and police should look for lessons from the incident.

Several officials said they have learned from the bizarre series of events.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Sue Riesling said the matter has helped build more cooperation between the 41,000-student university and the city, which could be essential should a real abduction occur.

“It was a good learning experience,” Riesling said.

And Lori Berquam, University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant dean, said the Seiler case was a reminder that students and staff should be on the lookout for signs of mental stress, especially during high-pressure times such as midterms and finals.

Since August, Seiler has sent monthly $250 checks to the city of Madison. So far, she has paid about $2,000 of the $9,000 restitution that was ordered as part of a July 1 plea bargain agreement.

In addition, she was sentenced to three years’ probation and must undergo mental health counseling and perform 250 hours of community service.

Although time seems to have softened the outrage some felt in Madison after Seiler was found, it hasn’t stopped inquiries and comments from local and national media.

Hopper said reporters still pursue Seiler, and she was mentioned in a March 1 Oprah show on pathological liars.

In the program, Winfrey said, “The truth about what really happened to Audrey would shock them all. This oh-so-smart college student admitted that she just lied and actually faked her own kidnapping.”

Only a few months after her faked abduction, Seiler was the focus of a Madison play, “Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?”

She also has been a topic of Madison’s top morning radio show, “Connie and Fish.” But the duo had mixed results when they poked fun of Seiler on the air and displayed three billboards featuring the DJs duct-tapped and bound with rope in the marsh where Seiler was found.

“More people seemed to feel sorry for her rather than to be mad,” said station vice president Jeff Tyler. “It wasn’t perceived to be funny. They felt the poor girl had just made a mistake.”

Seiler and her family continue to shy away from the media, but Hopper said the day might come when she will tell her story, if it can benefit others.

“She wants to help and serve others because that’s who she is. Before this happened she was a doer, a giving person who wanted to work with kids,” Hopper said. “But she can’t be effective until she has personally healed.”

Sabin added, “She is a well-loved young woman by her family and community, and that will carry her through. There is still a lot of healing needed, but she will work with and help young girls.”

In Madison, at least, the jokes and over-the-cappuccino talk about Seiler have faded.

“She is still more well known than your average student,” said Bob McGraff, University of Wisconsin-Madison head of counseling services. “They remember it, but it’s not on anyone’s minds. It’s in the past.”

Tyler agreed. “She had her 15 minutes and it lasted exactly 15 minutes.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Daily Headlines

  • Sign up and get the top stories to begin the day delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m.