SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The mysterious 21-year-old blond woman who checked into a San Jose hotel told the other guests she had a secret: She was Amber Swartz, a 7-year-old who vanished in 1988 while jumping rope on her driveway.
For six hours Friday, police wondered if they really had found Amber. But after fingerprints were checked and the missing girl's mother consulted, police realized the young woman was not who she claimed to be.
''As much as you guard yourself from getting excited, it still happens,'' Amber's mother, Kim Swartz, said. ''There is still that 'darn' feeling that it's not her. But that possibility still exists.''
The woman was eventually identified at Amber Marie Pattee.
Pattee checked into the California Motel on Wednesday, and introduced herself as Amber to the other guests. When one suggested she looked like the long-missing girl, Pattee said it was true but it was a secret.
The woman told a friend, who called police.
Officers found Pattee in a cottage room at the hotel. When they asked her name, she replied, ''Amber,'' said Sgt. Steve Dixon.
At one point during questioning, Pattee said ''I'm having a little trouble hearing you,'' which peaked the officers' interest because Amber had a hearing impairment.
''For a while, quite honestly, we weren't sure,'' Dixon said. ''We thought that after 11 years we were going to get this case settled and get her back to her mom.''
A source told the San Jose Mercury News that Pattee told police she was Amber Swartz and detailed the kidnapping.
But then the woman's story began to unravel. Her prints were compared to a partial print of Amber's from police files. A photo was electronically transmitted to Vallejo's police station, where Swartz said it didn't appear to be her daughter.
''You just, like, hold on to the seat of your pants because you have no idea how it's going to end,'' Swartz said. ''You just try to keep control.''
Amber vanished from her Pinole home on June 3, 1988. The disappearance was widely reported by the media and Swartz remains in the public eye to this day, recently volunteering to find Xiana Fairchild, a 7-year-old from Vallejo who has been missing since Dec. 9.
While disappointed about the hoax, Swartz said it demonstrated that police and the public are still aware of Amber.
''And that makes me feel good,'' she said.