"I saw this man with my daughter in his hands walking towards the parking lot".
The 2-year-old had become separated from her folks during a softball game on Saturday at Southwest Sports Complex in Lakeland, and was spotted by a man at the park with his friends, according to a police incident report published Sunday.
After the altercation, viral social media posts naming Patel as a child predator created so much trouble for him that he had to temporarily leave the neighborhood with his family out of fear for his safety. "What they see as an individual with their child walking off, but he was a good Samaritan trying to get that child back to her parents", Lakeland Police Sgt. Gary Gross said.
Witnesses say they saw the man walking with the girl pointing to various adults asking if they were her parents. The Good Samaritan told police the little girl pointed at this park, so that's where he was taking her to find her parents. FATHER: "No, hell no, I don't".
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But when the child's father was alerted by bystanders that his daughter was being led away by a stranger, the well-intentioned act was mistaken for a kidnapping attempt.
According to NBC News affiliate WFLA, the child's father and two other men approached the citizen and punched him several times as another man grabbed the child. As they passed men along the way he asked her if they were her father. The citizen does not have a criminal history and officers verified that he was there visiting friends, who happened to be off-duty deputies.
When asked by the station whether he believes the victim was trying to do a good thing, the girl's father was clear in his response.
Police said in a statement the man was "a good Samaritan". Not willing to let the little girl run off alone, the man picked her up and continued toward the playground, still searching for her father.
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WFLA reported after the incident that the Good Samaritan's photo and Facebook page were shared on social media, calling the man a child predator.
Despite the man's innocence, several posts were published on social media defaming his character. "Before posting information on matters such as this, we encourage people to identify the source and the validity of such claims before sharing them", Gross said. I wanted to kill the man, ' Strickland told FOX 13.
Lakeland police warned people that the Facebook post contained "false information and speculation".
The police statement noted that only one person called authorities to "get the correct information".
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