The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is setting the record straight about a viral Facebook video posted by a Dunedin woman who claimed she almost fell victim to human trafficking.
Lynne Knowles took to Facebook to share what happened to her at the Publix off of Curlew Road after she said a man followed her all throughout the store.
"There are men posted all over parking lots and they are trying to grab them," she said in the video. "They’re looking to grab people. It’s happened four or five times to the county north of us."
The video had been shared over 245,000 times and had 8.2 million views as of Wednesday afternoon. But the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has raised several issues with the video:
Knowles felt like she noticed an increase of complaints of women being followed by men.
Sgt. Spencer Gross said the department has not seen an uptick in abductions, kidnapping or human trafficking.
"We do not believe people are hanging out in parking lots looking to snatch women," Gross said. "If we have people being abducted and kidnapped out of parking lots it would be a major investigation."
Knowles posted the video on Facebook just two days ago, but she told deputies the incident happened in August. She also never reported it. The Sheriff’s Office only knew about the incident after media inquiries.
A manager at the grocery store, Scott ONeill, said he wasn’t aware of the incident she described.
The Sheriff’s Office also said it hasn’t handled a case involving human trafficking in over a year.
Gross spoke with Knowles directly to clarify the meaning of human trafficking, which is the process of illegally transporting someone for labor and/or sex. She admitted that she made a mistake with her word choice, according to Gross.
Knowles did not respond to a request for comment.
Gross said Knowles maintained that the incident she described about being followed in the store still happened.
"She wanted to bring awareness to people being safe," Gross said. "She had the right intentions, just chose the wrong words."
Publix spokesman Brian West said the store is working closely with law enforcement to investigate the incident.
The Sheriff’s Office urged people to call 911 and report if they feel threatened.
Contact McKenna Oxenden at [email protected] or (410) 258-2324. Follow @mack_oxenden