The heart-wrenching story of a disfigured 3-year-old child being asked to leave a Jackson KFC because her appearance was scaring other customers was a made-up story that resulted in the family bilking the public and professionals for 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.
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 people 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.
According to a report from Arizona 12 news, 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.”
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 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.
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.
Las Vegas plastic surgeon Dr. Frank L. 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 an 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 they 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 KFC incident went viral.
The fund collected 46 donations on June 13. On June 14, 164 people donated.
On June 15, 709 people donated and on June 16, 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.
Messages left for Bates on the Victoria’s Victories page and her personal Facebook page went unreturned.
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.
Riding a wave of anger at KFC, vitriol overtook social media with calls for boycotting KFC.
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.
Attempts to reach the family Monday were unsuccessful.