Vigilante beating sparks concern in Berks County community
EXETER TWP., Pa. - March 23, 2012 (WPVI) -- It started Sunday with reports of a suspicious man in a van stalking children. Rumors spread like wildfire on social media. And it ended with an innocent victim seriously injured by two other men.
"I was surprised to see that they actually took it upon themselves to be so brutal with him," said resident Lisa Bossler.
The police were alerted Sunday that a man with gray hair in a silver van had been seen driving through the neighborhood, following children.
They eventually found him and determined that he was a trash picker looking for things he could sell. They determined he was not a predator.
"He has not committed any crimes. There was no evidence that he was doing anything other than what he said he was doing," said Exeter Twp. Police Sgt. Steve Schaffer.
But that wasn't the end of it. Rumors raced across social media.
A Facebook posting sounding the alarm ended up on the Facebook page of Jacksonwold Elementary School.
"I saw a post going around that said there was a predator in the neighborhood on the loose," said Lakisha O'Riordan.
The neighborhood was whipped into near-hysteria. Some were going door to door sounding the alarm. Others were patroling on their own. It was scary.
"I know when I saw that on Facebook I was disgusted. I have a 7-year-old daughter and I kept thinking of her at the bus stop and some weirdo driving around the neighborhood," said O'Riordan.
By then any man with gray hair was a suspect. Wednesday night a 58-year-old man was out for a stroll when he was stopped by one of the neighbors.
Another man driving by got out of his car and tackled the man, slamming him to the ground. He suffered three broken ribs and cuts to his face.
"Nobody called the police. They simply could have been a good witness, called out a suspicious person just like it was a vehicle on Sunday instead of trying to detain him themselves," said Schaffer.
The two would-be vigilantes now face possible criminal charges. The police say a simple call to them could have easily defused the situation.
pennsylvania, berks county, facebook, beating, local/state, david henry
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