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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman October 31, 2020

Toddler in photo wasn’t found lost in Philadelphia. He was pulled from car in police stop

If Your Time is short

  • The photo is legitimate, but posts sharing it mischaracterize what happened. 

  • The boy wasn’t found wandering around alone and barefoot by police. He was pulled from an SUV after police officers swarmed and smashed the vehicle’s windows.

Multiple Facebook pages have been sharing a photo of a toddler clinging to a female police officer alongside the false claim that the boy was rescued by law enforcement when he was found wandering alone and shoeless, looking for his mother amid the protests in Philadelphia.

 "A CHILD WITH NO SHOES IN THE MIDST OF A CATASTROPHE FINDS SAFETY IN THE ARMS OF A WOMAN IN BLUE," reads a post by a page called Sheriff Deputies.

"A child left in the streets of Philadelphia during the looting, robbing and mayhem, wandering aimlessly, looking for his Mommy with no socks or shoes," the post continues. "But through all the mayhem, with broken glass all around, fires being set, and businesses getting vandalized, finds hope and love. One small beautiful baby boy, in the midst of this insane horror and madness, somehow finds safety in the arms of an Angel shielding him with her body."

That’s not what happened. 

Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department pulled the barefoot toddler from the backseat of an SUV after police swarmed the vehicle, smashed its windows and removed two people, one being the boy’s mother.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Unrest in Philadelphia

Protesters and Philadelphia police have clashed for days following the deadly police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man who was armed with a knife and whose family said he was mentally ill and had called for an ambulance. 

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets following the shooting, resulting in violent clashes with police, looted businesses and injuries to both law enforcement and protesters, and prompting the arrival of the National Guard.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about the incident with the SUV, which took place the night Wallace was killed. The report is based on a video taken by a bystander, which shows several people running in the street, before about 15 officers swarm the vehicle, yelling for the driver to get out. The video shows at least two officers smashing the windows, before pulling out the driver and beating her with a baton.

"Officers then pull a second adult out of the vehicle, and then seconds later appeared to remove the child from the backseat," the newspaper reported. "An Inquirer photographer captured an image of police holding a young boy at the scene at the same time, and a freelance photographer captured another image of police pulling that child out of the vehicle that was bashed."

Featured Fact-check

According to the Washington Post, 28-year-old Rickia Young borrowed her sister’s car, put her 2-year-old son in the back seat, and drove across town to pick up her nephew from a friend’s house. The incident happened when they were on their way back home and had turned onto a street where protesters and police had clashed. 

Police officers told Young to turn around, according to one of the lawyers representing her, and as she tried to make a three-point turn, they surrounded the car.

Young was arrested and later released without charges. The police department told the Inquirer that its internal affairs unit had opened an investigation into the officers’ actions.

The National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union, posted the image of the police officer holding the toddler on social media.

"This child was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia," the union said in a tweet and Facebook post that have since been deleted, "wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness. The only thing this Philadelphia police officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child."

The Inquirer reached out to the Fraternal Order of Police about its post. The union didn’t respond but the newspaper said the post was deleted about 30 minutes later.

Riley H. Ross III, one of the attorneys representing Young in a civil rights case stemming from the clash, denounced the union’s post on Twitter, calling it "a lie." 

Our ruling

Facebook posts say a toddler, seen in a photo clinging to a police officer, was rescued by law enforcement after he was found wandering alone and shoeless, looking for his mother amid the protests in Philadelphia.

This is wrong. The boy was not found wandering the streets. He was pulled from the backseat of an SUV after police swarmed the vehicle and arrested his mother.

We rate it False.

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More by Samantha Putterman

Toddler in photo wasn’t found lost in Philadelphia. He was pulled from car in police stop

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