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Theft scuttles mermaid dreams

Published February 28, 2007


WEEKI WACHEE - A purse theft derailed the dreams of three aspiring mermaids Saturday afternoon, turning fulfilled childhood fantasies into disappointments.

Mermaid Nikki Wilkerson discovered her Coach purse missing after Saturday afternoon's auditions. Only the mermaids and the seven people trying out had access to the women's locker room, said park spokesman John Athanason.

Mermaid manager Marcy Terry had decided to hire four of the tryouts to swim underwater shows at the 60-year-old attraction on U.S. 19 at State Road 50. But three had their offers rescinded after the theft.

"It's an unfortunate thing," Athanason said Tuesday. "Until we can find out the status of the purse, we're just going to hold off on hiring anyone."

Only Lauren Dodson, a 17-year-old senior from Nature Coast Technical High School, will be hired, Athanason said. Terry interviewed Dodson in front of several reporters, and then Athanason saw Dodson leave.

"So I know what Lauren was carrying," Athanason said. She didn't have the missing purse. Dodson, daughter of a former mermaid, will start training in June when she turns 18.

Athanason said the park does not suspect that any of its current roster of 17 mermaids is involved. The women have worked together for years. "They wouldn't steal from Nikki," he said.

Wilkerson, 21, of Brooksville, has worked at the park for more than three years. The Coach purse - a gift - contained a Tiffany necklace, car keys and other personal items, Athanason said.

Wilkerson filed a police report with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, said spokeswoman Donna Black. The missing bag is a tan Coach carry-all with dark straps. The crime occurred between 11 a.m. and noon Saturday, and the investigation is ongoing.

Amanda Miles, a 25-year-old from Brooksville, wanted to be a mermaid since she was a little girl. She tried out for the second time Saturday, and got an offer. But when she got home, Terry called and told her it was off.

"I understand why they have to do it," Miles said Tuesday, "but it is upsetting that somebody did that and ruined it for everybody else."

Despite her disappointment, Miles stood up for two of the other tryouts: Chelsea Hearn, 19, of Brooksville and her best friend, Jamie Babcock, 18, of Spring Hill.

"Those two girls came in with nothing and left with nothing," Miles said. "I called Marcy to let her know so at least those two can be cleared."

Hearn, like Miles, was hired and then unhired because of the theft. Babcock wasn't hired.

The other successful tryout was Laura Leigh Gingerich, 22, of Tennessee. Gingerich drove 12 hours to audition, and planned to move here in June if she got the job. She couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to Babcock, two other women were not hired: Sasha Gaulin, 19, of New Port Richey, and Candace Croshir, 18, of Spring Hill.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at or 352754-6127.

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 00:44:14]

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