LAKELAND (FOX 13) - When a Lakeland man tried to be a good Samaritan by looking for the parents of a lost child, police say the story got twisted. He got punched in the face and his reputation was smeared all over the internet.
It all started at the Southwest Sports Complex in Lakeland on Saturday when a 2-year-old girl wandered away from her parents during a softball game. Austin Strickland later told police he was just getting into the dugout when he realized his daughter was missing..
Another man there with his friend, who just happens to be a Polk Sheriff's Office deputy, found the little girl, but she couldn't tell him 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," stated LPD Sgt. Gary Gross. "We had an independent eyewitness that saw him walking around, asking, 'Is this your parents? Is that your father?'"
As the guy wandered amid the crowd with the girl in his arms, he caught Strickland's attention. The worried dad assumed the worst and took quick action.
"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 in that direction."
Strickland says he punched the other man maybe a half-dozen times. But the good Samaritan got battered on the internet much worse: His name, his picture, his kids' pictures, and where he works - all went viral.
Within hours, there were warnings to watch out for him all over the web.
To quickly combat the spread of false information, Lakeland police posted the facts -- and a warning: "Be careful about what you post on social media so as to not victimize an innocent person."
When people read that, they began taking down their posts.
"Definitely teaches me to check sources before spreading," one person commented.
"The assumptions that were made can ruin this guy's life," another offered.
You can actually be charged or sued for sharing false information about someone, so you shouldn't share anything unless you're absolutely sure it's true.
Meanwhile, police say the good Samaritan could have pressed charges against Strickland but didn't because he, himself, is a dad and understands that Strickland was frantic over his girl going missing.
The man did decide to leave the area with his family for a while, though, just to make sure they're safe.