WASHINGTON — It was an outrageous story when it broke: A three-year-old with facial scars was told, along with her grandmother, to leave a KFC in Jackson, Mississippi, because her appearance was scaring the other customers.
The story inspired indignation, and it inspired people across the country to give more than $135,000 in cash, gifts and free surgery for Victoria Wilcher, including $30,000 from KFC itself.
Now a Jackson newspaper says it was all made up.
The Clarion-Ledger, citing the Laurel Leader-Call, reports that the story was created “out of whole cloth.”
The Leader-Call’s sources, whose names were not given, poke several holes in the account given by Wilcher’s grandmother, Kelly Mullins:
The family initially told KFC that the incident happened at a store on State Street, which has been closed for years.
Mullins and Wilcher went to a children’s hospital in Jackson, according to their Facebook page, on May 15, the day the incident allegedly happened. An examination of surveillance video at the two KFC locations near the children’s hospital show no one matching Wilcher or Mullins’ description were at either location.
Mullins said she ordered sweet tea and mashed potatoes with gravy. No orders for the two items were placed together on May 15 at either location.
Mullins’ lawyer told the Clarion-Ledger that he would have no comment until he’d heard from the family.
Jackson franchise owner Kirk Hannon said in a statement that “We continue to take this report seriously, and of course have great sympathy for Victoria and her family. Since we have so far not been able to verify the incident in our internal investigation, we have also hired a third-party consultant to conduct an independent investigation to help us resolve this matter.”
He said that KFC would honor its commitment to contribute $30,000 toward Wilcher’s medical bills.
“We are determined to get to the truth and address the situation appropriately,” he added.
Wilcher was injured April 10 when she was mauled by three of her grandfather’s pit bulls.