Is the story of a boy harassed in a Walmart over a pink headband a hoax?

By : Susan Clary
Comments: 5

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is developing and we are posting updates as they become available. Please scroll down to the bottom to read the latest.

The Davenport woman whose account of her son being assaulted and called an anti-gay slur in a Walmart went viral this week has been transported to the Lakeland Regional Medical Center under the Baker Act.

Kathleen Rebekkah Carpenter, 31, posted her story to The Huffington Post Aug. 2, describing an incident she claims happened July 29 in a Walmart near her home. Carpenter, who penned the piece under the name “Katie Vyktoriah,” describes her 2-year-old son Dexter, whose favorite color is pink. According to Carpenter, Dexter wore a pink “lace flower headband” into the store and after being laughed at by two teenage girls, faced a much scarier confrontation:

“Out of nowhere a big booming voice rang out. ‘THAT’S a BOY?!’ The man was overly large with a bushy beard and a camouflage shirt with the arms cut off. He had tattered shorts and lace-up work boots with no laces. I could smell the fug of cigarette smoke surrounding him, and there was a definite pong of beer on him.

‘Yes,’ I said simply, still smiling.

With no notice, the man stepped forward, grabbed the headband off of Dexter’s head and threw it to the bottom of our shopping cart. He then cuffed Dexter around the side of his head (not hard, but that is not the point) and said with a big laugh, ‘You’ll thank me later, little man!’

At the same time as I stepped forward, Dexter grabbed his head where the man had smacked him and threw his other hand forward, stomping his foot and shouting, ‘NO!’ I got between my son and this man and said very firmly, ‘If you touch my son again, I will cut your damn hands off.’

The guy snarled at me, looked at Dexter with disgust and said, ‘Your son is a f*cking fa***t.’ He then started sauntering out, but not before he threw over his shoulder, ‘He’ll get shot for it one day.'”

The story’s anti-gay hook and description of an adult villain picking on a child proved irresistible for a number of other online media outlets, and sites such as Gawker, Queerty and Buzzfeed quickly published the piece.

In the meantime, some online posters raised questions about the story’s veracity, questioning why Carpenter didn’t report the assault to the police or a store manager.

According to Donna Wood with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, on Aug. 3, a deputy spoke to a man who reported his wife and son were harassed at a Walmart the previous week. Carpenter lives in Polk County, but the Walmart where the incident happened is located in Lake County.

“It was determined the incident occurred within Lake County and that the man needed to contact the Lake County Sheriff’s Office,” Wood said. “No PCSO report was written.”

On Aug. 5, Polk County deputies returned to Carpenter’s home. According to the police report, Carpenter “made suicidal statements fitting the criteria for a Baker Act,” and was transported to the medical center.

Wood said that during that visit the deputies made a Harassing/Obscene Communications report stating that “unknown subjects have contacted the victim via email with harassing and obscene messages,” and that “a patrol request was generated for the residence for the next two weeks.”

According to police, Carpenter has received more than 11,000 emails since the story was posted online. Her blog, A Mother Thing, her Twitter account and her personal Facebook page have all been pulled offline, but her blog’s Facebook page remains.

That investigation is open.

During the course of the investigation, it was determined that the Walmart where the incident allegedly happened is located in Lake County, so the Lake County Sheriff’s Office also has a report filed Aug. 5.

That report describes both the initial alleged confrontation in the Walmart, plus the conversation that led to Carpenter’s Baker Act.

“At this time, there are no charges against the unidentified male and we were unable to obtain video of the incident, as Walmart Loss Prevention was not on site,” states the Lake County police report. “Based on the continuing media response through Facebook and generated response to the incident by online subscribers, possible video of the incident may be obtained and viewed to in fact verify that the incident actually did occur or if it was all made up.”

Walmart has not yet returned requests for comment.

UPDATE: Carpenter is back home taking care of her son, according to her boyfriend Mark Reed, 33. Reed gave a little more insight into how the story spread – when she told him what allegedly happened at Walmart, he encouraged her to blog about it, and then Huffington Post called and asked for permission to reprint her words.

“It was horrible what happened but we didn’t think it was against the law so we didn’t call police,” Reed said. “She was angry so she wrote about it as the ‘bigger pictures society that we live in’ kind of story.”

Reed said he and Carpenter are frustrated by what is being said about them on the Internet. He said his wife is absolutely telling the truth.

“I never thought for a minute she was lying,” Reed said. “We have had a lot of positive response, but we have had threats.”

“We have had a lot of people write to us to tell us they have been in similar situations,” he added. “It wasn’t until she felt her well-being was threatened that we realized it had gone out of control.”

UPDATE: The Huffington Post has removed Carpenter’s original post. Their editor’s note:
HuffPost provides a platform for bloggers to share their thoughts and experiences. In a post published last week, an author described witnessing an incident that is now being investigated by local law enforcement. At the blogger’s request, we have removed the post. We have also confirmed with investigators that they are in contact with the author.”

UPDATE: Carpenter’s blog Facebook page has been removed.

Editor’s note: Susan Clary provided additional reporting for this story.

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