When a man noticed a little girl wandering by herself near a softball game in Lakeland, Florida, he correctly assumed the child was lost. So he tried to help her find her family.
But when the girl's father was alerted by bystanders that some stranger was walking towards the playground with his daughter, the father went and punched the man out. The police report is here. As NBC News describes, "the well-intentioned act was mistaken for a kidnapping attempt."
You know why? Because far too many people have a sort of movie-plot scenario on infinite-loop in their brains, telling them that children routinely get abducted in public by strangers.
"I saw this man with my daughter in his hands walking toward the parking lot. What would you do?" the father told NBC affiliate WFLA in a phone interview. "I wanted to kill him!"
–Thinking they were stopping a crime, the father and two friends approached the stranger: As his friends took the toddler away, the father punched the good Samaritan "probably five or six times," he told WFLA.
"I thought he was trying to take my daughter."
Perhaps the father was among the 12 million people who watched Joey Salads' video in which he shows how "easy" it is to steal a child from a park—making it seem like this kind of thing is happening all the time. But the Salads video ignores two key facts:
- Most people do not steal children. It is the rarest of crimes.
- The tragic but less exciting truth is that our children are in far more danger from people they know than they are from strangers.
To make matters worse, even after the police concluded that this was indeed a Good Samaritan trying to help a lost child, the child's father remained defiant and unapologetic about his violent actions:
The father and his friends were not satisfied with the man's explanation or that of the police. "So, I guess in Lakeland, you can kidnap a child and get away with it," the father said to police, local media reported. The police report, local media said, described the father as "increasingly agitated."
According to WFLA, other media outlets and police, family members and friends went on social media and shared the man's photo, his Facebook page and his place of business, "calling him a child predator," WFLA said.
The Good Samaritan, now fearing for his life, has fled town. Meanwhile, the police are reminding the family that, "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]."
The whole incident makes you understand this tragic story from 2002. In England, a man named Clive Peachey saw a lost toddler on the side of the road and considered stopping to pick her up and helping her to find her parents. But he drove on.
She was not walking straight, she was tottering, said Mr Peachey. "I kept thinking should I go back? One of the reasons I did not go back is because I thought someone would see me and think I was trying to abduct her."
The lost toddler later drowned in a pond.
To make the world safer for kids, we need to stop viewing all stranger-child interactions as potential crimes.