KFC says it is investigating a report that the family of a three-year-old girl who said she was asked to leave one of its restaurants because her scars from a vicious pit bull attack were frightening other customers made up the story to get sympathy — and donations.
According to a report by the Laurel Leader-Call, the story, first posted on Facebook by Victoria Wilcher's grandmother, was "generated out of whole cloth and resulted in the family bilking the public and professionals for more than $135,000 in cash, as well as gifts and free surgeries."
Kelly Mullins, Victoria's grandmother, said she was driving her granddaughter home from the hospital when they stopped at a KFC in Jackson, Mississippi, for sweet tea and mashed potatoes.
“They just told us, ‘We have to ask you to leave because her face is disrupting our customers,’" Mullins told WAPT-TV earlier this month. "[Victoria] understood exactly what they said."
But the paper cites anonymous sources "with deep knowledge of the investigation" who say Mullins and her granddaughter do not appear in surveillance video taken from the restaurant on the day of the alleged incident, and that "no orders were recorded to include mashed potatoes and sweet tea on the same transaction."
"We have taken this report very seriously from the beginning," KFC spokesman Rick Maynard told Yahoo News. "Since our franchisee was unable to verify the incident in their internal investigation, they hired a third-party consultant to conduct an independent investigation to help resolve the matter. Along with our franchisee, we remain determined to get to the truth and address the situation appropriately."
The The Laurel Leader-Call reported that the investigation was now considered closed.
"We are committed to the $30,000 donation to assist with Victoria’s medical bills no matter the outcome," Maynard said.
The family of the girl did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An attorney who represents the family told the Associated Press that a statement would be issued later Tuesday.
"I promise [it's] not a hoax," Teri Rials Bates, Victoria's aunt, wrote Tuesday on a Facebook page that had been created in April to give updates on Victoria's recovery. "I never thought any of this would blow up the way it has. The article circling the web calling this a hoax is untrue. The article [says] the investigation is not complete. It is not over until KFC releases a statement.
"The family has not asked for anything," Bates added. "I have personally watched this family go without to provide for Victoria. They have not and would not do anything to hurt Victoria in any way."
The Facebook page appears to have been since taken down.
After Mullins wrote about her experience at KFC on Facebook, the company apologised and launched its internal investigation.
"Please accept our sincere apologies while we try to investigate this incident," said a comment submitted by the restaurant. "If you could help provide details of the incident ... we will look into this immediately."
After the story went viral, KFC also pledged $30,000 to help pay for Victoria's recovery.
Investigators said three pit bulls attacked Victoria in the backyard of her grandfather's home. According to WAPT-TV, the grandfather, Donald Mullins — Kelly Mullins' ex-husband — shot and killed two of the dogs; a third was euthanised. The grandfather and his girlfriend were later arrested on child-endangerment charges.
According to Simpson County Sheriff Kenneth Lewis, Donald Mullins was keeping 10 pit bulls at his home at the time of the attack.
"This is probably the worst [pit bull attack] we've ever had," Lewis said.