By Colleen Jenkins
(Reuters) - A story involving a disfigured 3-year-old Mississippi girl whose family said they were asked to leave a KFC restaurant because her appearance was scaring customers, has been found to be a hoax, according to a spokesman for the fried chicken franchise.
Despite that, the company said it will honor a pledge to donate $30,000 toward the girl's medical bills to repair her deeply scarred and partially paralyzed face.
The family of Victoria Wilcher said she visited a KFC outlet in Jackson, Mississippi, with her grandmother in May and staff told them her appearance was frightening other costumers.
"Like the rest of America, the KFC family has been moved by the story of Victoria’s injuries and recovery," KFC spokesman Rick Maynard said in an emailed statement.
"After the alleged incident was reported to us, two investigations took place, including one by an independent investigator. Neither revealed any evidence that the incident occurred, and we consider the investigation closed," he said.
An unidentified source cited by the Laurel Leader-Call newspaper in Mississippi disputed the family's claim on Monday. The person said the child and her grandmother could not be seen on surveillance videos from two KFC locations and records showed no orders matching the food the grandmother said she ordered.
KFC said the franchise had hired a consultant to investigate the Wilcher case after being unable to verify it.
The child was attacked by three of her grandfather's pit bulls in April, according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper.
The family has received offers for free surgeries for Victoria and more than $135,000 in donations as word of the alleged KFC incident spread.
A message posted on a Facebook page run by Victoria's aunt said the newspaper got the story wrong.
"I promise it's not a hoax," the message said. "I have personally watched this family go without to provide for Victoria. They have not and would not do anything to hurt Victoria in any way."
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins and David Adams; editing by Gunna Dickson)