The report of a Jackson KFC accused of asking a 3-year-old girl to leave because of facial scars was a hoax, according to the Laurel Leader-Call.
The story of Victoria Wilcher, who was disfigured by dog attack, being asked to leave a KFC Jackson because her appearance was scaring other customers was a story generated out of whole cloth and resulted in the family receiving more than $135,000 in cash, as well as gifts and free surgeries, sources with deep knowledge of the investigation said exclusively to the Laurel Leader-Call.
The sources spoke on the condition of strict anonymity because they were not permitted to speak on the record.
A third-party mediator has been brought in on the case and he has been investigating the claims. No one with KFC, including Jackson franchise owner Kirk Hannon, would comment on the investigation until it is completed but they did release the following statement on Friday.
"We continue to take this report seriously, and of course have great sympathy for Victoria and her family. Since we have so far not been able to verify the incident in our internal investigation, we have also hired a third-party consultant to conduct an independent investigation to help us resolve this matter," Hannon said in a statement reported by WJTV. "We have always prided ourselves on respect for all people and we will continue to emphasize this to all our employees. In addition, regardless of the outcome of the current investigation, KFC Corporation has committed $30,000 to assist with Victoria's medical bills. Along with the KFC Corporation, we are determined to get to the truth and address the situation appropriately."
Of the findings, the sources said:
• Kelly Mullins, the child's grandmother who was reportedly with her at the store, told KFC that the incident happened on May 15. A Facebook post attributed to Victoria's Victories, a support site for young Victoria Wilcher who was mauled by three of her grandfather's pit bulls, has the two in Jackson on May 15 having gone to Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital. There are two KFC locations close to the hospital — on Woodrow Wilson Drive and Meadowbrook Drive.
On May 16, Victoria's Victories wrote: "We had a small adventure yesterday, Victoria pulled her feeding tube out but thanks to the great people at Batson Children's Hospital she is home today waiting for her new sister! Mom & Baby Abby come home today too!!"
• The source said surveillance videos show that at no time on the 15th were any children in the store who match the description of Victoria Wilcher or Mullins. The tapes were viewed in both the Meadowbrook and Woodrow Wilson KFC locations in Jackson, the source said. In hours of tape, the source said one small boy with his parents is seen, but they order food and leave the store.
• The source said no orders were recorded to include mashed potatoes and sweet tea on the same transaction, or even the two items as part of a larger order on May 15. Mullins told WAPT TV in Jackson shortly after the incident went viral on social media June 12 that: "I ordered a sweet tea and mashed potatoes and gravy. I sat down at the table and started feeding her and the lady came over and said that we would have to leave, because we were disturbing other customers, that Victoria's face was disturbing other customers."
The source said never has a hospital patient been asked to leave one of the KFCs and he pointed to seeing people suffering from all sorts of ailments eat at KFC. Inside Batson Children's Hospital is a plaque of Col. Harland Sanders, founder of KFC, placed there after the company made a multimillion-dollar donation to the hospital.
"We have never ever ever run off anyone, and we have seen some really really sick people come to the restaurant from the hospital," the source said. "We've had people come in who were shot in the face. We've had them with tubes and wire sticking out. We never have asked anyone to leave.
"There is a physically challenged person working in the Woodrow Wilson location and one of the other (KFC) managers has a child with Tourette's Syndrome," the source said.
• The family initially told KFC the incident happened at the location on State and High streets, a claim backed by a Facebook post by Victoria's Victories, a page run by Teri Rials Bates, the girl's aunt that read: "Thank you for your support for Victoria. If you would like to file a complaint its the KFC on State Street in Jackson MS." That store is not in operation and has been closed for several years.
Victoria's Victories changed its story Friday, saying the State Street reference was a mistake. In it, Bates wrote. "Im the Aunt, I run her page and Im the one that miss quoted that it was State street when it was actually Woodrow Wilson. Dont blame the grandmother for my mistake!
The source said it was no mistake at all.
"It just didn't happen," the source said.
The story began going viral on June 12 when Victoria's Victories page posted: "Does this face look scary to you? Last week at KFC in Jackson MS this precious face was asked to leave because her face scared the other diners. I personally will never step foot in another KFC again and will be personally writing the CEO."
After it went viral, employees and managers at both Jackson locations have faced death threats, have had drinks thrown at them through the drive-thru window and have faced constant verbal harassment, the source confirmed. One employee told the Leader-Call on June 20 that it was the first day since the firestorm erupted that he would wear his KFC work shirt in public.
Mullins' attorney, Bill Kellum of Jackson, said until he received word from the investigation launched by KFC that he could not comment. The findings of the report are expected this week.
"You can write what you want to, but until I hear from them, I have no comment," Kellum said by telephone Friday afternoon.
Reached again Monday he said the primary goal is to help Victoria's recovery. He said the family did not go searching for national attention, although they were the ones who first posted the event.
Kellum also said the family has not decided on whether to even accept the $30,000 KFC pledged soon after the story went viral.
"This doesn't go to the family, they don't want it; it just goes for Victoria," said Kellum, who said he has yet to hear the findings of a third-party investigator, but that he has talked to the investigator and he is hearing differently than this story.
"While we are pleased that KFC has brought in a third-party investigator, our primary goal isto help Victoria recuperate," he said.
He said he also is trying to create a trust fund for continued medical care for Victoria.
However, in a weekend story on WJTV about Las Vegas plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Stiles' visit to Victoria for a consultation for free plastic surgery, another attorney, Lindsey Turk, is quoted as saying: "I mean I'm just amazed by the generosity of people and I just really feel good about it and I know that Victoria's going to be okay. We're looking just to get her help. Not anything for us."
Dick West, who is the president of West Quality Food, one of the largest franchisees in the KFC chain and the owner of the local KFCs, also declined comment. However, on Saturday night, he made his feelings quite clear on the Facebook page of a Jackson television station when he posted "When the allegation was first made, KFC pledged $30,000 to go to medical expenses and started an investigation to find the truth. They have pledged the money even if it is proven that the incident never happened. At this point their story is full of holes. Any thinking person who follows their timeline can see it. The event at KFC never happened."
The incident garnered near instant national and international attention and became an economic windfall for a family who was openly concerned via social media of their fight with an unidentified insurance company and their financial struggles with paying for Victoria's medical bills. There was no mention of what insurance carrier the family had. Stiles visited the family over the weekend for a consultation. His nonprofit, The Frank L. Stiles Foundation, will cover the costs of the expensive reconstructive procedures, which Stiles said would normally cost tens of thousands of dollars. Other doctors have offered to assist as well, he said on social media.
More than $135,000 has been raised through the online donation site, gofundme.com, since June 13. The fund was created by Bates on April 28. The funding before the chicken caper came from seven donors for a total of $595.
On May 20, Victoria's Victories posted: "Victoria's family is really struggling with the insurance company. Currently the(y) are not paying for the formula that goes into her feeding pump. If you can donate please do. They need your help."
No donations were given after that post until June 13, when the bogus KFC incident went viral. The fund collected 46 donations on June 13. On June 14, 164 people donated. The 15th, 709 people donated and on the 16th, when the firestorm had reached its zenith, 1,085 people donated. From June 17 to noon June 21, 855 more people had donated to the fund.
Of those donations, $30,000 of it came from KFC for help with medical bills suffered when Victoria was attacked by three pit bulls at her grandfather's Simpson County trailer.
Others donated anywhere from $5 to $1,000 — much of it anonymous. But it was clear that the deception fooled plenty of people.
Eric Breeding, who donated $100, wrote: "It hurt my heart to hear her story. I don't have much, but I wanted to do something for her."
Shennell Church, who donated $10, wrote: "I read about what the KFC employee did. That was awful, inexcusable, and just horrible. Give Victoria some extra sweet hugs and kisses from us."
Messages left for Bates on the Victoria's Victories and her personal Facebook page went unreturned.
On Facebook Saturday, though, in one the most cryptic messages in response to a commenter, Bates wrote: Danyll, I hope God never sees fit to put you or your loved ones in such a hard situation as this. I made a mistake, when I made this mistake her page was only 250 people mostly family and close friends. None of us thought that it would blow up to be what it is. Im sorry you don't believe the truth."
Mullins welcomed television cameras from Jackson while peddling the tale of deceit in an effort to bilk a public who lapped up the story with little regard to its validity. By the time those TV interviews had aired, the story had taken on a life of its own.
National and world media such as CNN, Nancy Grace, Huffington Post and The Today Show jumped on the story, lambasting the employees, KFC and YUM! Brands, KFC's corporate owners.
"What, did they walk over to the table and say 'hey, you're ugly, you have to leave.' What happened Dave?" wailed Grace, the HLN hysterical talk show host, which was answered by little-known talk radio host Dave Maxson.
"No, Nancy, it was even worse than that. It wasn't 'you're ugly.' It was 'you are scaring people. You must leave.'"
Riding a wave of anger at KFC, vitriol overtook social media with calls for boycotting KFC. Most bought the story, hook line and sinker, but several others did not.
Becky Tatum wrote on Facebook: "When kfc releases the surveillance video and broadcasts the results of their investigation – there isnt going to be a rock big enough for this family to climb under when the world finds out their kfc story is a lie for money."
Most of them were derided for their comments, however, as the majority backed the family's story.
On April 10, three of Donald Mullins' 10 pit bulls burst through a door and began mauling Victoria at his Garrett Road home.
Simpson County Sheriff Kenneth Lewis told WAPT at the time that one of the dogs ripped open the back door and jumped on the little girl. The other two dogs dragged the girl into the back yard and began mauling her.
Donald Mullins and his girlfriend, Rita Tompkins, were arrested and charged with child endangerment, but both are out on bond. Victoria was rushed to a Jackson hospital, where she has been undergoing numerous treatments and surgeries. She suffered several broken bones, severe facial scarring and has been having to eat using a feeding tube.
One of the final posts on Victoria's Victories Friday was a Bible verse from the Book of Romans. It read: "If God be for us, who can be against us? Rom 8:31
What they left off was the first half of that Bible verse: "What shall we then say to these things?"
Attempts to reach the family for that answer were also unsuccessful.