An employee at a local CBS affiliate in Virginia broke her silence, apologizing for making what turned out to be a baseless fraud charge against a GoFundMe page set up to help a family in Indiana, whose pizzeria was forced to close. The family became the center of intense controversy because they expressed their support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
CBS6 affiliate employee, Alix Bryan, who works for the station’s web and social media team, revealed on Twitter on Wednesday that she flagged a GoFundMe page that was set up to help the owners of Indiana restaurant, Memories Pizza, for fraud.
“I have reported the GoFundMe for Memories Pizza for fraud. Just in case,” Bryan tweeted.
Memories Pizza owners, Kevin and Crystal O’Connor, found themselves at the center of a nationwide controversy when an ABC News affiliate accused them of stating that they would refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. The O’Connor family later clarified that they would welcome LGBT customers into their restaurant, but because of their beliefs, they would not cater an LGBT wedding in the event that they were asked to do so.
After reports began spreading about the family’s statement, they began receiving death threats and were forced to close the business, and go into hiding. The GoFundMe account — set up by Lawrence Jones, an employee of Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze TV — was launched to support the family and has so far raised over $800,000.
Bryan soon began to question the authenticity of the fundraiser, reaching out to Jones on Twitter to try and get some proof that it was really set up for the family. She didn’t receive a response.
“What does the money go to? How will they use it?” Bryan asked. “I'm still scratching my head. Why does this pizza place need $25,000? And the fundraiser is being done by a news enterprise?”
Jones later responded to the controversy on CNN, clarifying his intentions with the fundraiser. “One of the things that our show really wanted to do is make sure that they could handle some debt as well as repair the shop and do whatever they needed to do,” he said. “There's been some graffiti and things like that. As well as if they needed to do some repairs or take care of some personal things ever since this happened."
Bryan eventually went silent on social media, before breaking that silence on Friday night to issue a formal apology to the O’Connor family for claiming that the fundraising page was fraudulent.
“I reported the campaign to GoFundMe’s fraud page so they would look into its veracity,” she wrote. “This had nothing to do with my job. I never wrote a news report on this matter. I participated freely in social media discussions only on my personal account, expressing my own views, and I regret that my posts may have reflected negatively on my employer.
“My intent was to prevent possible swindling, not to create a hateful conversation," she continued. "In the future my actions will be more measured and I apologize to those affected.”