A Florida man trying to help a lost toddler was beaten by the girl's father, who mistakenly thought she was being abducted, police said.
“When I got there, I just swung on him," Austin Strickler told WFTS-TV. He was playing softball when his daughter wandered away, he said.
He said he did not regret hitting the man.
"You don’t pick up somebody’s kid," he said.
The Lakeland Police Department said on its Facebook page that the man was acting as a “good Samaritan” and trying to find the child’s parents when he was attacked.
“The citizen attempted to ask the girl where her parents were and walked with her in the hopes she could point them out,” the department’s post said.
“At least one independent witness stated they observed the citizen walking with the child trying to help find her parents,” according to the post. Witnesses also said the man approached several people, asking the child if they were her mother or father.
Several softball players, including the child’s father, converged on the man, thinking he was trying to kidnap the child. "This was not the case," police said.
After the attack, the dad and several others took to social media, naming the citizen, posting photos of him and his family and making derogatory comments.
The man and his family have left the area, fearing for their safety, police said.
The department warned against spreading speculation online.
“Posting false information on Facebook could cause a defamation of character claim and those posting false information could be held liable.”
After questioning many people at the baseball site, police made no arrests. The citizen declined to press charges because he said he understood, as a parent, the fear of a child being abducted, police said.
“It’s understandable how parents can possibly be upset in a situation involving a lost child,” the department said. “However, this incident truly involved a good Samaritan trying to assist a lost child finding their parents.”
The negative online comments appear to have been taken down.