Amid a poignant atmosphere of relief and embarrassment, a University of Toronto student accused of faking his own abduction and sending police on a three-day hunt for the phantom kidnappers has been freed on $20,000 bail and ordered to stay close to home.
In a small courtroom crowded with a dozen anxious relatives and friends, Furqan Muhammad-Haroon, 22, spent most of yesterday's bail proceedings gazing at the floor, a hand over his face, before being hustled out through a media throng and driven away to the high-rise apartment he shares with his parents and brother in Scarborough.
His peculiar tale - initially taken at face value - began Saturday afternoon when the electrical engineering student allegedly phoned a friend while driving on Toronto's east side to say he was being followed by three men with a gun.
His abandoned van was found nearby shortly afterward, locked, with the keys still in the ignition.
But in the absence of any corroborating evidence, detectives swiftly grew skeptical any abduction had occurred, and early Tuesday evening Mr. Muhammad-Haroon was spotted in St. Catharines, brought back to Toronto, charged with public mischief and jailed overnight.
The mischief charge is on top of a charge of theft under $5,000, laid this month by York Regional Police over the disappearance of computer equipment from the headquarters of IBM Canada in Markham, north of Toronto, where Mr. Muhammad-Haroon worked earlier this year before being fired.
Prosecutor Paul Amenta outlined a connection between the two sets of circumstances, which as usual with evidence in a bail hearing was subject to a publication ban.
Nor was there any comment from Mr. Muhammad-Haroon or his supporters and relatives, all plainly uncomfortable with the television cameras and the publicity accompanying his story.
But outside court, lawyer Shahzad Siddiqui said the family was "relieved he has been found safe and extremely grateful to people who assisted in the search."
Detective Anthony Paoletta of 41 Division said much the same.
"Ultimately, the outcome in my opinion is positive; we were very concerned for Mr. Muhammad's safety and we're extremely happy he's safe," he said.
Following an anonymous tip to Niagara Regional Police, the missing man was arrested without incident near a mosque in St. Catharines, Det. Paoletta confirmed.
Mr. Muhammad-Haroon vanished just hours before he was to fly to the United Arab Emirates to join his parents for a vacation - a departure that could have been problematic given the theft charge.
Instead, his alarmed parents returned to Toronto to aid the search for their missing son.
Stringent conditions were attached to his release, including an order that amounts to house arrest except to attend school or visit his doctor or lawyer.
He is to reappear in court in Toronto on Sept. 29 on the mischief charge, and in Newmarket on Sept. 15 to address the theft charge.