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What we know about the Herndon TikToker who is tunneling under her home

A woman in a green coat and a red outfit is shown wearing a hard hat and in a wooden doorframe.

Read the original story on WAMU/DCist's website.

It’s only a few days into 2024 and we’ve already got “Northern Virginia woman builds likely illegal underground tunnel system under her home” on our bingo card.

The amateur engineer going by “Kala” on her engineer.everything TikTok account has become known as TikTok tunnel girl for her videos showcasing the construction of a series of tunnels underneath her home (she’s posted more than 200 dating back to October 2022).

Many videos feature her welding, stacking cinder blocks, dumping rock and talking through engineering challenges she’s encountered while constructing the “underground tunnel system” 22 feet below the Northern Virginia surface.

Kala, who has asked news outlets not to share her legal name, admits in her TikToks that she’s not a professionally trained structural engineer (though she is a software engineer). She’s made a point to note in her videos that she’s learning new hands-on skills, and she’s highlighted several setbacks and challenges to the project.

“Before this project, I had very little experience with electrical and had to learn a lot of new stuff. In fact, I used to consider it magic which it kinda is,” she said in one of her videos from last month.

It’s unclear exactly why the woman is digging the tunnels under her home. DCist/WAMU has reached out to Kala via a number of different methods but has yet to hear back. She has recently declined to comment on the tunnels to local media.

Some people have speculated she’s looking for a top-secret government tunnel, quarrying rock for a castle or something to do with ghosts. In her first TikTok video posted in late October 2022, Kala said she was embarking on a new project to build “a storm shelter off the side of her basement.” She told the Daily Mail late last year that this wasn’t because she was a prepper but rather enjoys complex and challenging DIY projects because it “keeps me preoccupied and keeps me entertained.”

By day, Kala works a 9-to-5 office job so digging and building is an outlet for her, she noted.

In more recent videos, she’s embraced the bizarre nature of what she’s doing by calling the giant hole underground a “suburban mine” or an “underground tunnel system.”

Thousands of people have commented and posted reaction videos to the project (including some who live nearby) expressing a combination of admiration, bafflement, anger, and fear for her and others’ safety.

In 2017, a series of fires broke out in secret tunnels built underneath a Bethesda home. The fires killed one person and sent another to jail. A small fire reportedly broke out in Kala’s tunnels back in July, but it was quickly extinguished.

There’s also been a fair amount of news attention, including an NBC News story and a Bloomberg op-ed. The woman told the Daily Mail in November that once she’s done with this subterranean project, she hopes to build a castle.

All of this begs the question: Can this endeavor possibly be legal?

Some recent digging by Reddit users has revealed that the house in question is in the Town of Herndon and there are, in fact, concerns about the legality of building subterranean tunnels underneath a local home.

Last week, the woman posted a reenactment video featuring “voice actors” playing local officials inspecting the tunnel and issuing a stop work order.

“They are requiring an immediate evaluation by a professional engineer,” she said in the TikTok dated Dec. 28. “Fortunately, contrary to rumors here, it’s constructed entirely below the slab of my house and it shouldn’t be too hard to get permits and approvals. So, will be working on that.”

A town spokesperson confirmed to DCist/WAMU that a stop work order had been issued: “The Town of Herndon received notice that activity in potential violation of the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) was occurring at a residential property within the town’s corporate limits. As is standard protocol following such notifications, representatives from the building official’s and zoning administrator’s offices conducted a site inspection on Thursday, December 7, 2023.

“The town is working with the property owner to correct any violations and ensure that the property is safe and in compliance with the code,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The Herndon spokesperson declined to provide further information about the violations and what would need to be done to correct them.

Matt Blitz is a producer for WAMU in Washington, D.C.