A kind-hearted man who was helping a 2-year-old find her parents at a baseball game was assaulted due to a misunderstanding and then wrongfully vilified on social media, exacerbating an already confusing situation.
Police are warning people to be careful about what they post online, since wrongfully accusing someone can lead to a libel suit and cause irreparable harm.
The good samaritan was at the game with a local deputy and saw the little girl wandering around by herself at a baseball game in Lakeland, Florida, on June 24. Noticing the girl was lost, the man spoke to her, trying to find out where her parents were.
“He saw that the child was in danger. She was wandering off and he did the right thing by going to her, getting her attention, trying to find the parents,” Lakeland Police Sgt. Gary Gross told Fox13. “We had an independent eyewitness that saw him walking around, asking, ‘Is this your parents? Is that your father?'”
The girl could not point out the location of her parents, so the man proceeded to walk around, holding the girl in his arms, to look for them. Police told Fox13 that some bystanders, who misinterpreted what they saw, alerted the girl’s parents and some baseball players.
The girl’s father, Austin Strickland, raced toward the man and assaulted him with a flurry of punches, thinking that the man was trying to kidnap his daughter. The commotion and confusion was only cleared up after a thorough investigation by the Lakeland Police Department.
“You’re damn right [I punched him]. I wanted to kill the man,” Strickland told Fox 13. “You just don’t take someone else’s kid and walk to the parking lot or walk in that direction.”
Bystanders who were present started posting pictures they took online, but had misinterpreted the scene, saying that the man was trying to abduct the child. Word of the incident quickly spread on the internet—the man’s name, workplace, and even pictures of his children were posted online, warning people of a criminal on the loose.
Police tried their best to mitigate the erroneous online posts about the man by issuing a full report on the incident. A number of people removed their posts after seeing the message from police.
“It’s understandable how parents can possibly be upset in a situation involving a lost child. However, this incident truly involved a good samaritan trying to assist a lost child finding their parents,” said a statement from the Lakeland Police Department.
Although the good samaritan could press charges against the girl’s father for assault, he chose not to, since he understood fully a man’s fury at seeing someone taking his little girl away.