A fake article that claimed a video showing the brutal beating of a homeless man at a gas station in the Olney section of Philadelphia last year was actually a homeless veteran being beaten to death by anti-Trump protesters has been taken down by the Christian Times website.
The article used a different victim's name and said the man died early Saturday after being beaten by people protesting Donald Trump's election. It claimed the protesters were trying to set an American flag on fire when the victim yelled at them to stop.
The video shown with the story, however, was actually that of the brutal beating of Robert Barnes — who was not a veteran and who was not beaten by anti-Trump protesters.
Barnes was attacked outside the Sunoco gas station on 5th Street near Somerville Avenue at about 6:40 p.m. April 7, 2015, allegedly by three women and three juveniles. The assault landed him in a coma.
Barnes, 51, died seven months later, on Nov. 25, at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health.
Diane Barnes, of Plymouth Meeting, one of Barnes' sisters, said Tuesday that she learned of the fake story Sunday when it was posted on her Facebook page by a friend.
"My first reaction was shock, disbelief. I couldn’t believe they could use such a heartwrenching story about our family … and use it in another story," Diane Barnes said.
"What troubles me," she said, "is what did this prove, what was gained in this? This affected a family in a terrible, terrible tragedy. What did they expect when they posted something like this? What was their expectations?"
One positive outcome that came out is that the publicity has brought her brother's death back in the public eye, so that it is not forgotten, she said.
There was no obvious way to contact someone at the Christian Times Newspaper for comment Tuesday. The site says a person named "John Chefetz" is the owner and founder of the website. A search in a national public database did not find anyone under that name.
The Philly Voice news website first reported about the fake article on Monday. It noted that the fake story gained social-media traction after a link to it was posted on a Facebook page entitled “Rep. Trey Gowdy for Speaker of the House."
Gowdy is a U.S. congressman from South Carolina. The Facebook page is not associated with his official congressional office or his campaign, the account says.
On Wednesday morning, Amanda Gonzalez, press secretary for Gowdy, confirmed by email that the Facebook page "is not reflective of Rep. Gowdy’s views and not related to Rep. Gowdy’s official office or campaign." She said she had asked the owner of that Facebook page "for almost a year now" to remove the page. She said there have been previous problems with rumors starting from that Facebook page.
By Wednesday morning, the “Rep. Trey Gowdy for Speaker of the House" Facebook page had been removed. The fake article about the beating at the Olney gas station on the Christian Times Newspaper website had also been taken down.
As for the real attack on Robert Barnes, three women—Aleathea Gillard, 35; Kaisha Duggins, 25; and Shareena Joachim, 24 — face a March 20 trial on murder and related charges.
Three juveniles — two boys and a girl — pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy in Family Court and were sentenced under plea deals to placements at residential juvenile facilities, which focus on rehabilitation and treatment.
Gillard allegedly led the attack on Barnes after her 10-year-old son claimed that Barnes hit him. That was a lie — Barnes did not hit the boy, authorities have said.
The 10-year-old boy and Barnes had both been earning money pumping gas at the Sunoco station when they got into an argument. The boy then rode his bike home, fell and hurt himself on the forehead, and then told his mother Barnes hit him.
Gillard, who lived about 1 ½ blocks from the gas station, got into her Honda Odyssey minivan with other people who were in her home at the time and returned to the gas station.
At the gas station, the three women and three juveniles — Gillard's 13-year-old son, her 12-year-old daughter, and a 14-year-old male friend of the 13-year-old boy — allegedly attacked Barnes.
Gillard allegedly pummeled Barnes in the head with a piece of wood from a broken rocking chair. Duggins allegedly hit him in the head, legs, and feet with a hammer. Joachim allegedly tried to spray him with Mace, but accidentally sprayed Gillard's then-13-year-old son. The three juveniles participated in punching or kicking Barnes.
The 10-year-old boy was also brought back to the gas station to identify Barnes, authorities have said, but did not participate in the beating. He was not charged.