A good Samaritan who tried to help a little girl find her father was mistaken for a kidnapper, punched repeatedly, and later smeared on Facebook. According to The Washington Post, the man has since left the Florida town of Lakeland with his family until tensions hopefully simmer down.
The Lakeland Patch obtained the police report documenting the incident. According to law enforcement, the man was watching a friend's softball game at a local sports complex when he overheard an exchange about a little girl who had gone missing nearby. So when he spotted a 2-year-old girl wandering alone not too long after, he assumed she might be in trouble. He began talking with her, asking her where her parents were, and was able to deduce that she had been separated from her father.
Apparently the little girl pointed to the playground, so the man took it to mean that her father might be there looking for her. Holding the little girl's hand, he began walking towards the structure, pointing to men along the way and asking if they were her father. At first the child replied only no, but then she reportedly "began to become agitated" and tried to run away from the man. Afraid that the little girl would get lost again, he took to carrying her.
The Washington Post reports that, according to police, that bystanders informed the little girl's family that a man was attempting to kidnap her, so when they finally found him the group was already heated. Three men came up behind the man, one taking the little girl while the others punched him "in the face, repeatedly." The father of the little girl was reported to have punched the man four or five times, resulting in cuts and heavy bruising on his face.
After speaking with witnesses who had heard the man asking the little girl if passersby were her father, police decided that it had all been a terrible mistake on the part of the child's family. This was no attempt at kidnapping a child, but an unfortunate misreading of an understandably complex situation.
"I thought he was trying to take my daughter," the little girl's father told News Channel 8. "I saw this man with my daughter in his hands walking toward the parking lot. What would you do? I wanted to kill him.”
While police considered the case closed and even presented the man with the option of pressing charges against his attackers, the girl's family was not finished. According to WFLA, they took to social media, posting a picture of the man along with his business address, a link to his Facebook page, and the label "child predator."
In response to the escalation, the Lakeland Police Department posted on Facebook themselves, clearing up the details of the case and calling for the attacks on the man to stop.
"Accounts of this incident have circulated on social media with false information and speculation. Posting false information on Facebook could cause a defamation of character claim and those posting false information could be held liable. Be careful about what you post on social media so as not to victimize an innocent person. Before posting information on matters such as this, we encourage people to identify the source and the validity of such claims before sharing them."
The man told police that he did not wish to press charges against the little girl's father for assault or defamation because he understood how the situation could be "perceived incorrectly" and the emotions losing a child can bring up.