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November 14, 2016

Fake story gone viral misrepresents fatal beating of homeless Philly man as anti-Trump attack

Tragedy Media
Barnes funeral Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

In December 2015, mourners said goodbye to Robert Barnes, 51, at a funeral in Manayunk. Barnes died seven months after being attacked outside an Olney gas station.

As if it weren’t horrible enough to lose a loved one due to a heinous beating outside an Olney gas station, survivors of Robert Barnes are now grappling with the fact that his death has been used to perpetuate a fake news story tied to last week’s presidential election.

Chilling video of the April 2015 brutal assault was presented Saturday by the “Christian Times Newspaper” as evidence of anti-Trump protesters beating a homeless veteran to death on Friday night.

The false story – from a site known for publishing “ridiculous conspiracy theories”  changed Barnes' name, but the location was true to the real story.

Also false is the portrayal of Barnes as a military veteran and that he was beaten to death for trying to stop “a group of young adults” from burning the American flag.

In reality, Barnes died seven comatose months after a group of three adults and three juveniles allegedly beat him with their fists, feet, a hammer, a piece of wood and pepper spray. 

The violence reportedly stemmed from a 10-year-old claiming Barnes hit him during an argument about who would pump gas for customers.

“I'm outraged. I think it’s disgusting. It turns my stomach. What’s the benefit of doing that?” – Diane Barnes

Investigators later dismissed that allegation as a lie the youth told as an excuse for getting home late.

The fake story made social-media rounds after it was posted by a “Rep. Trey Gowdy for Speaker of the House” Facebook page.

Though that’s different than the legislator’s real page, the post – taglined, “Why is the media not covering this heinous attack? And all because he asked them not to burn the American flag” – was shared nearly 55,000 times by Monday afternoon.

Amid a climate of real intimidation, fake news stories have been cropping up in the wake of the election.

There’s nothing as heinous as co-opting a tragedy, though, and suffice it to say, Barnes’ family is not happy to have their pain dredged back up in the apparent name of satire or whatever.

Barnes’ sister Diane said she first learned of the fake story Sunday when a friend posted it on her Facebook page.

“I'm outraged. I think it’s disgusting. It turns my stomach,” she told PhillyVoice on Monday afternoon. “What’s the benefit of doing that?”

Aside from stoking anger at the end of a heated campaign season, none.

Diane Barnes/for PhillyVoice

Robert Barnes remained comatose for months after a brutal attack outside an Olney gas station. His family announced his death on Nov. 25, 2015.

While she took solace in the fact that people who knew the real story pointed out the truth in the comment threads – and how this has, in a convoluted way, brought her brother’s real story back to the forefront – she realizes it’s gone viral to the point that many may never know the truth.

“It’s just so painful for our family to see this again, to have someone use fake propaganda to get people to read a story. I have no words to describe it besides horrible,” she said. “Apparently, it’s all over the place now. Everybody’s telling me they’ve seen it.

“Our family is still mourning. It’s just horribly painful, what they’ve done here. It’s just heart wrenching.”

The three adults charged in connection with Robert Barnes’ death – Aleathea Gillard, Shareena Joachim and Kaisha Duggins – are scheduled to face trial on March 20, 2017, at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center.

They are charged with murder, conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime with intent.