Police found no evidence of abuse
About a month ago, a story began circulating in conservative social media spaces that a 7-year-old girl with Down syndrome in Florida returned home one day distraught because her teachers had allegedly tied a mask to her face.
The girl’s father, a man named Jeffrey Steel, claimed that the girl came home on 7 October in a “panic” because of her mask. The girl, who is reportedly nonverbal, made it clear she was struggling to breathe. Her father claimed her “health and possible life” were at risk, according to The Daily Dot.
The story blew up and Mr Steel appeared on Fox News to discuss his story, claiming the “abuse” had occurred for six weeks. He even started a crowdfunding campaign on the Christian fundraiser website GiveSendGo.
However, a recent investigation into Mr Steel’s claims by the Indian Harbour Beach Police Department suggest the story may be a total fabrication.
Florida Today reported on the police investigation, which found no evidence of abuse from the staff toward the girl.
“As witnessed by multiple teachers, school aides, bus drivers, and school administration staff, at no time, while having the mask tied on, did (Sofia) ever exhibit any signs of distress, discomfort, difficulty breathing, or any other health concerns,” the investigators wrote in their report.
Video evidence showed that the girl actually seemed to prefer wearing her mask, and her only outburst came during a time when she was forced to not wear a mask.
“On at least one occasion, Sofia was observed on video placing the mask on herself; on another, her teacher told police, she ’threw a temper tantrum’ when she was not allowed to wear her mask,” police wrote.
On top of those discoveries, police also believe the Steels lied about their claims. According to police, photos Mr Steel provided to police showing signs of abuse contained metadata suggesting the photos were taken days after the alleged incidents took place.
After being confronted with the information, Mr Steel admitted that the photos had been staged because his wife allegedly lost her phone, which was where the “real” photos were saved.
With the parents’ story now facing intense scrutiny, some social media users have pressured politicians who used the story to further their own anti-mask agendas to apologise and recant their statements. Those politicians include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who invited Mr Steel to speak during a press conference, and state Representatives Jason Fischer and Randy Fine, who said there was a “special place in hell for people who did this” to the girl.
Mr Steel’s crowdfunding campaign is still active and has raised more than $104,000 of its $200,000 goal.
The Steel family has not responded to a request for comment.