‘No evidence’ teenager comforted by Meghan Markle was set on fire by white men
Police have found no evidence that a young biracial woman was set on fire by a group of white men while sitting in her car.
Althea Bernstein, 18, received an outpouring of support from celebrities including Meghan Markle after she claimed to have been targeted by racist "frat boys" earlier this year.
The Wisconsin teen said she was waiting at some traffic lights in the early hours of June 24 when a group of young white men yelled a racial slur at her.
She said they then doused her with lighter fluid through her rolled-down window and set her on fire. Ms Bernstein was later treated at a hospital for burns to her face and neck.
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The alleged attack took place while violence was escalating across the US following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer. Protests in many different cities turned deadly as anti-racist protesters clashed with police.
State and federal authorities launched a major investigation into the alleged attack on Ms Bernstein, going through surveillance footage from the area in an effort to find the assailants. They also offered a reward of $5000 (£3870) for information, which they later doubled to $10,000 (£7740).
Family spokesperson Michael Johnson revealed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had reached out to Ms Bernstein to offer their support. In a Facebook post, he said Meghan spoke with the teen for 40 minutes on the phone while Prince Harry also jumped on the line for 10 minutes.
Meghan allegedly discussed her biracial heritage with Ms Bernstein, and the two also spoke about faith and the "importance of self care and allowing herself to heal".
Prince Harry reportedly told the American teen she had the couple's "thoughts, prayers and wishes".
But in a strange twist, the Madison Police Department have announced they are closing the case due to a lack of evidence that the attack ever took place.
"After an exhaustive probe, detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported," acting police chief Victor Wahl said in a statement.
"The Madison Police Department dedicated significant resources to this case. Detectives conducted numerous interviews, reviewed extensive video, and analysed physical/digital evidence during the course of the investigation."
Mr Wahl said Ms Bernstein was "treated with dignity and respect at all times" during the investigation and that she and her family were "cooperative with investigators".
The US Department of Justice said the federal investigation "found insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges for an alleged hate crime".
It added that "after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred".
The Madison Police Department released case documents including screenshots of surveillance footage that showed Ms Bernstein's car was the only one stopped at the lights at the time of the alleged attack and there was no one else around her.
Investigators found no evidence of any burning or charring in her vehicle, and no traces of the lighter or match she said had been used to start the fire.
Detective Justine Harris said investigators reviewed Ms Bernstein's phone and her Snapchat records, and "found no evidence that Bernstein colluded with anyone to make a false report or that there was any mal-intent or pre-planning that occurred in regards to Bernstein's statement to police".
Det Harris added that investigators "had no indication that there was a malicious intent or an effort to defraud the department or the community".
Mr Wahl told media it was unlikely Ms Bernstein would be charged with anything.
"We were unable to corroborate (the allegations), but we are not speculating on what did and did not happen," he said.
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