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WELLINGTON, Fla. - In the age of social media alerts, viral Facebook posts and public shaming, something occurred in our own backyards last week that can serve as an example to everyone: What you see on social media rarely tells the entire story. Take it with a grain of salt.
I first saw this Facebook post Thursday afternoon in a group for Wellington moms.
“SAFETY ALERT!!!” it began. “Ladies, my husband just had a panicked woman with a small child walk into his RPB (Royal Palm Beach) restaurant to tell him the man who walked in behind her followed her from the Buy Buy Baby parking lot. He was watching her and didn’t order anything for a while until he noticed people watching him. He continued to order a (to-go order) and then sat one table away from the woman. The police were called and asked the man to leave. They told my husband that there have been several attempted child abductions in the area of Wellington and Lake Worth lately. They are targeting women who are by themselves with their kids and then kidnapping their children! Please, please be vigilant especially when you are by yourself! If you feel uneasy, it’s probably for a reason! Make a scene and ask for forgiveness later bc it’s better to be safe than sorry!! Stay safe everyone!!”
I’m not a mom yet but I am a mom-to-be, and this had me shaken. Not just as a woman but as a woman who has been assaulted, I felt for this mother concerned for her child in a place where we should be safe: a local restaurant.
My first instinct as a reporter was to reach out to the woman who made the post. She replied politely and said her husband would be in touch with me soon. She also confirmed the restaurant: Bolay.
Then I contacted the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to ask about the post’s claim of an increase in kidnapping attempts in our area. The response surprised me.
The PBSO districts that include Royal Palm Beach and unincorporated Wellington and Lake Worth did not report increased kidnapping attempts or reports of suspicious people, a spokeswoman said.
I paused. Should I continue pursuing the story? I decided to wait until I heard from the restaurant’s manager.
Meanwhile, the post had been shared thousands of times. Hundreds of people reacted. And in that time, Brian Pollack saw the post.
Pollack, 33, grew up in Wellington and recently moved to Loxahatchee. He has been married for 10 years and has two sons aged 8 and 6. He has coached baseball at the Willows in Royal Palm Beach for six years, and he’s a captain with Delray Beach Fire Rescue.
He also happens to be the man referred to in the post.
“When I read the post I thought, let me just head this off,” Pollack said. “I mean, what are the odds that this is the same situation?”
So he took to Facebook himself, typing out his side of what happened last Thursday at the Royal Palm Beach Bolay.
Pollack drove to the restaurant down State Road 7 from his unit at CubeSmart Self Storage on Belvedere Road, around the corner from the Buy Buy Baby plaza. He went to Bolay to get lunch for himself and dinner for his wife and sons. It was his first time ordering there. When he arrived, he said he sat inside for awhile before placing his to-go order because his wife had not yet replied with her order. After the food was ready, he ate his meal before leaving to pick up his sons from school.
As he left the restaurant, Pollack said he was stopped by two PBSO deputies who pulled him aside and asked him what was going on. The deputies did not ask Pollack for identification and did not take down his name, Pollack said. He explained he was picking up dinner.
“They did it properly,” he told me. “They pulled me to the side and said, ‘What happened?’ They raised no concern of me doing anything.”
The deputies did not file a report on the incident. According to dispatch logs, a woman in a gray tank top with a child told the Bolay manager that a man with a green T-shirt and black shorts was following her. When deputies arrived, they talked with the man — Pollack, whose name is not mentioned in the log. The “event comment” says the subject come to Bolay to eat and never made contact with the woman at any time.
Pollack said in writing his responses to the many Facebook posts, he thought about one thing: What would happen if someone had taken a photo of him and sent it to his chief at Delray Fire Rescue?
“I told some of my friends about it and they said, ‘That was you? Oh my God, we were talking about that for a few days,’” Pollack said.
He’s not upset with the woman who was concerned and reported him to Bolay employees. As a first responder, Pollack said he understands what she did in reaching out for help, and he’s glad she did so.
“I can’t fault the woman who feels scared,” he said. “I’m a father of two. But I can fault the person who’s spreading erroneous information.”
I once again contacted the woman who originally posted on Facebook. She and her husband declined to comment for this article. I have not been able to find the woman who thought Pollack was following her.
Pollack said he plans to reach out to Bolay to hopefully clear up any confusion. The original post since has been deleted, but copies remain on Facebook.
“This is where these groups are great, because you share this information immediately,” Pollack said. “But what are we sharing, and at what expense?”
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