Vile Facebook post about missing man with autism shows downside of social media

Ignorance-laden poster takes shot at man’s appearance as family members frantically search for him

I’ve seen a lot of vile posts from bullies, bigots and lunatics on social media over the years, but few compare with the filth that appeared on Facebook last week about a man with autism who was reported missing in Vero Beach.

Larry D. Croom, COO/Content Director

In case you aren’t aware of it, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office on May 3 posted a notice about Douglas Pierce, a man with high-functioning autism who was last seen by his family on April 29 around 8:30 a.m. He left on foot from the 400 block of 7th Road S.W. in Vero Beach and hadn’t been seen by them since then. The sheriff’s office released photos and a description of Pierce and asked for the public’s help in locating him – an excellent way to use social media, I might add. MyTreasureCoastNow.com published a story about Pierce shortly after it was posted on Facebook.

Three days later, when Pierce still hadn’t been found, the sheriff’s office released more photos of him taken at two minimarts on the morning he was reported missing. Again, kudos to the sheriff’s office for using social media in a positive way in an attempt to locate a man who clearly could be in danger in many different ways. And once again, MyTreasureCoastNow.com published a story about the continuing search for Pierce.

Unfortunately, that’s where this story took a very nasty turn. A woman who I won’t give the satisfaction of identifying – you can easily find the comment on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page – felt the need to make a vile post about Pierce and the City of Vero Beach. After viewing the repulsive and bigot-laden posts on her Facebook page, I’m not surprised she would stoop so low as to take a shot at a missing man who deals with a disability every day – a person whose family clearly is terrified about his well-being.

The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office says the photos shown above are of 40-year-old Vero Beach resident Douglas Pierce, who has been missing since April 29. The photos were taken that morning in Vero Beach at the Mobile Gas Station at 1600 14th Ave., left, and Snappy’s Convenience Store, located at 1196 Old Dixie Hwy. Anyone with information about Pierce or his whereabouts is asked to contact the sheriff’s office at (772) 569-6700.

The ill-tempered post drew plenty of comments from those who clearly were upset by such lack of caring for another person. One pointed out just how crude her post was. Another suggested karma might pay the woman a visit. And another said the nasty poster wasn’t crude, just “ignorant and unnecessary.”

Still others suggested that the poster had no shame and was “disgusting.” Another said she was “quick to judge” and probably didn’t have many friends. One wrote: “Grow up cat lady!!!” Another called it a “garbage post.” And a woman who identified herself as Pierce’s sister wrote: “That is my brother and you are a monster. He is missing and we are worried sick about him. How about you go be a troll somewhere else.”

The parent of an autistic child also weighed in: “It’s really sad to see that grown adults can make comments like this because autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Even ‘high functioning,’ they can be taken advantage of. This man could be in danger and you can only be derogatory based on someone’s appearance!!” Another parent of a child on the autism spectrum added: “I would be frantic. My heart is breaking for you all. I look for him on my way home from work every day. I pray he comes home very soon.”

Needless to say, Pierce’s family is terrified and worried about him. They had to explain to another poster that Pierce isn’t “dangerous” – something that clearly would have been included in the notice from the sheriff’s office if that was the case. The last thing they need to worry about right now is having to defend Pierce and deal with ignorant people who know nothing about him, autism or the circumstances of his disappearance.

Frankly, those details are none of our business. All we are being asked is to do is contact the sheriff’s office if we see Pierce so they can return him to his residence, where he clearly will be surrounded by family members who love him.

As for the woman who made the insensitive and unnecessary comment, I offer this: You make me sick. You clearly know nothing about people with disabilities. If you took the time to learn about developmental disabilities like many parents have had to do – this writer included – then you would understand how awful and irrelevant your comment about Pierce’s appearance really was.

Sadly, you are among the many ignorant and uncaring people those with disabilities and their families are forced to deal with on a daily basis. I’m guessing you are the type that stares at someone who looks different than you – and then feel the need to open your mouth to spout heinous nonsense when it really should just stay shut.

Douglas Pierce, 40, who has high-functioning autism, was last seen by his family on April 29 around 8:30 a.m. when he left on foot from the 400 block of 7th Road S.W. in Vero Beach. Anyone with information about Pierce or his whereabouts is asked to contact the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office at (772) 569-6700.

My hope for you is that you take a few minutes and think about what you’ve done. Learn about people with disabilities and give them a chance. I’ve learned many wonderful things from my daughter with Down syndrome, and if you would open your mind just a little bit and crawl out of that horrible world you seem to relish being a part of, you might actually change your way of thinking and have a little compassion.

As I said earlier, I’ve seen this woman’s Facebook page and it’s sickening. I’m all for free speech and I, like many journalists, have spent our careers defending it. But I find it deplorable that such a person has the ability to make such an awful comment without repercussions from Facebook. At the very least, I’m hoping the Indian River Sheriff’s Office will remove her comment and eliminate such hate from its well-intentioned post.

As for Pierce, we have joined with other media sites in making his situation known to residents of the Treasure Coast. We will certainly continue to do that and also will continue to pray that he is found and his family finds peace in this terrible situation.

Anyone with information about Pierce or his whereabouts is asked to contact the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office at (772) 569-6700.

Larry D. Croom is the COO and content director of MyTreasureCoastNow.com. He has been a working journalist for 40 years and has served as the executive editor of five newspapers – including The Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie Tribune – and the associate publisher of a daily newspaper in North Carolina. He and his teams have won hundreds of journalism awards, including an Edward R. Murrow Award and Two Telly Awards for telling the stories of veterans in Central Florida. He can be reached at ldcroom@mytcnow.com.

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