Sierra “Cece” Sims was an exemplary and popular student at her Tennessee high school, but when the teen entered college, the stakes were higher and she could not keep up with the institution’s demands.
She turned to alcohol and even went to the extreme of faking her own kidnapping in an effort to exit her pressure-cooker existence. The young woman’s mother, Kathie, chose to share her daughter’s story on an upcoming segment of ABC-TV’s “20/20.”
As the daughter of Tommy Sims, who co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton’s song, “Change the World,” Cece had pretty big shoes to fill and it seemed she was well on her way to do so. She was a homecoming queen, an accomplished guitar player and a basketball star at her high school. As a matter of fact, Cece was being courted by quite a few top-notch colleges for her basketball skills.
Auburn University was one of the colleges that came knocking the hardest at Cece’s door. “I remember when my assistant coach came to me and said, ‘You have got to come watch this kid play,’” Nell Fortner, the former head coach of women’s basketball at Auburn University, told 20/20.
Cece answered Auburn’s knock and wound up with a full scholarship to the Alabama school, which was only 300 miles away from her home.
Trying to acclimate herself to the rigors of first-year college life was not an easy feat for Cece. In addition to her course, she also had to fulfill the practice demands of being a college basketball player.
“Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or Czech Republic or to Hawaii,” Fortner told 20/20. “They are going to get a great education tutoring. But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at 5 in the morning, and they don’t get to bed ’til 11 at night.”
Cece could no longer play her beloved guitar because she just could not find the time.
Succumbing to the pressures of her newfound surroundings, the 18-year-old freshman began her slow descent into a dark place and secretly started binge drinking. “Because her energy and her personality was always so bubbly, nobody thought for one second there was a problem,” Fortner said.
One day, when she felt she could no longer cope with her schoolwork and athletic demands, Cece called home and told her mom she wanted to come home. Kathie instead urged her daughter to seek the help of her coach who was someone she could trust.
According to Fortner, Cece’s drinking was not evident because she always appeared to be on such a high with her vivacious personality. On one particular day, Cece called Fortner to tell her about a campus concert she attended. Fortner responded by stating, “I am glad you are enjoying it, but, remember, we have practice at 6 in the morning, so make sure you set your alarm,’” Fortner recalled. “She goes, ‘Oh yeah…I have got 5 alarms set.’”
Cece never showed up the next day for practice. Fortner told 20/20 that when Cece failed to show up for her drills, she immediately experienced a sinking feeling. When word got out that Cece was a no-show at basketball practice, students came forward to offer up information about some goings-on the night before at Cece’s dorm. Witnesses stated that Cece was seen storming out the dorm’s back door, climbing onto a bike and peddling into the night.
An Amber Alert was issued and a search for the school’s star basketball player was quickly pulled together involving the police, FBI and state troopers.
Twenty-four hours had gone by since Cece’s unexplained disappearance when an officer stumbled upon the young woman. “One of the policemen who were searching for her almost hit her,” Kathie told 20/20. “She looked right at him and said, ‘I’m Cece Sims,’ and he just melted.”
At the police station Cece recounted a bizarre story about her disappearance.
“Cece said that she walked out of the dorm and a truck pulled up,” Fortner recounted to 20/20. “It was a man and a woman, and they dragged her into the truck…they forced pills and alcohol down her, and, there, they kidnapped her.”
The story that Cece had conjured up was untrue, according to her mom. Instead, Cece reportedly hightailed it to a Wal-Mart just a few miles from the school and drank for the next 18 hours.
Sims later decided to share her lapse in judgment with the media movement “I am Second.” “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. And so I thought, ‘What better of a way than to say I was kidnapped?’ That way, I wouldn’t have to quit and be known as a quitter,” said Sims, in a video posted on the website iamsecond.com.
It’s been five years since Cece’s dramatic escapade, yet according to Kathie it is still an uphill battle for her daughter who is living at home, seeing a counselor and playing music again. Hindsight is always 20/20 but if Kathie had a do-over regarding the harrowing events that took place five years ago involving Cece, the mom told the ABC news show, “I would’ve pulled back the reins on her basketball, and helped teach her more about balance. And, if your child calls you from college and says, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Come get me,’ hear ‘em out.”