"So...," begins the Facebook post, as few messages of great meaning or urgency do.
And yet, by the end of its first sentence, this one had taken a dramatic turn. The writer meant to warn people about an "attempted abduction," on Friday night in St. Cloud. The "victim," the writer's friend, was shopping at a Walgreens when she noticed she was being "followed" by a strange man.
"Every aisle she went down, there he was," the post says. "When she went to check out, the man was by the checkout—just standing off to the side. The only defense she had was to put her car key in between her fingers. She walked out and as she opened her car door, he showed up right behind her and tried pushing her into the car. She screamed and fought with him for a bit before a car pulled up—a man got out of the car and started yelling at the POS and he ran away."
This second man, the hero, gave chase, but the Facebook post-er thinks the creep got away. With him, and other potential assailants still at large, the writer has some advice: "pepper spray and/or an alarm," "a self defense class," and "conceal and carry" permits for everyone's safety. "These douchebags are everywhere!"
Which "douchebags," exactly? The writer sort of backs into it—"A predator can be any race or gender so we should all be aware"—but eventually gets to the ultimate point:
"This man was Somalian [sic], as were all the people in the store, including the cashier"—therefore, the reason she didn't say anything about being nervous when she checked out.
It's harrowing, this tale of an innocent white woman pursued by a scary, dark-skinned man, unable even to ask for help because she was, in a true nightmare come to life, racially outnumbered at the pharmacy.
The story spread rapidly online, with hundreds of Facebook shares over the weekend. Its proliferation continues, to the annoyance of at least one party: The St. Cloud Police Department, which came out Wednesday with a statement saying this didn't happen, the Star Tribune reports.
To be clear, the woman identified as the "victim" did go to Walgreens on Friday, as cops verified by reviewing surveillance tape from that Walgreens. But the parts about a scary man following her throughout the store, to the checkout counter, to her car, then trying to kidnap her... none of that appeared on the video.
Cops confronted the Facebook post author and the "victim," who now admit the story was a hoax. Well, sort of: Brainerd woman Annie Justin acknowledged to the Star Tribune she wrote the post on behalf of her St. Cloud relative, the "victim."
Because the false report was made online, rather than to police, the woman is not subject to any criminal penalty, though Assistant Police Chief Jeff Oxton did say it "spread fear, anxiety, and an incredibly dangerous false narrative" to "thousands of people." (Shouldn't that be a crime?)
Justin maintains "there was an incident" involving her relative, just not the one she wrote up in her viral Facebook post. "Someone tried to attack her, but it was not at Walgreens." She didn't specify if this other "attack" had also occurred under the baleful eyes of Somali-Americans clutching carts lined with discounted toiletries.
"On the one hand," Justin says, "I feel foolish, but on the other hand, this is a scary world and things like this happen a lot.”
Annie should stick with that first hand for a while, and try to keep either of hers from doing any writing. This, indeed, can be a scary world. And the only real "victims" in her post already had reasons to be afraid.