If you’ve been on Facebook, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Dillon Reagan. He’s this guy:
His story went viral because it’s basically the perfect apolitical news bit: Man does something brave and good, Evil Corporation fires him, internet gets something to be enraged over for a few days. We wanted to know what really happened, and get an insight into what it’s like when 20 minutes of your life goes viral to tens of millions of people. We learned …
1. Doing The Right Thing Can Be Against Company Policy
Dillon’s story starts where so many other stories end: at a Home Depot in Portland, Oregon. He was hard at work, building depots for homes or whatever it is employees at that store do — sorting rakes, fondling hammers, etc. It was the night before Mother’s Day, and Dillon was working as the closer for the tool rental department.
“I was doing my closing paperwork … and I heard a banging on the door, which led out to the outside parking lot. Normally that’s someone coming in to do a last-minute drop-off …” But in this case, the thing being dropped off at the last minute was DANGER!
“It was one of our lawn associates, and he was kind of freaked out. Saying, ‘I need to call the police!'”
Dillon asked, “What’s going on?”
And his co-worker responded, “Some guy is kidnapping some kid in the parking lot.”
Dillon would later learn that the associate had seen a strange man assault a woman in the parking lot: “… she was in the driver’s seat of the car, and he basically pulled the kid out of the back window.” Dillon got out to the parking lot in time to see the kid’s mom “in hysterics, screaming, ‘Someone please help me, he’s taking my kid!'” Considering this whole situation sounds like the setup to a particularly dark Lifetime Original Movie, you probably understand why Dillon went ahead and assumed a child was in real danger.
He quickly spotted the abductor, whom he described as “obviously drunk, with a kid in his arms, saying something I couldn’t make out because his words were so slurred.” Dillon’s co-worker called the police. “They told us don’t touch him, don’t engage him, but keep an eye on him so we know where he is when [the police] show up.” And so Dillon followed the strange man, at one point just “five to ten feet away” (so he could get visual confirmation that the kid was uninjured). He kept the man in sight and kept the police informed, until a block and a half later they showed up on scene and rescued the kid.
Here’s where we note that this wasn’t technically a kidnapping in the usual sense: “The drunk man ended up actually being the child’s father, and after they separated and calmed everyone down … the woman never ended up actually pressing charges.” But from Dillon’s perspective, it sure as shit looked like a bad situation. And it sounds like he responded appropriately. He didn’t, like, try to dropkick the baby free of the captor or anything. He just followed the guy and kept the police informed.
So Home Depot, like many businesses, has a perfectly sensible policy: Employees aren’t supposed to step off the premises while on duty. It’s a safety thing. And Dillon had been trained not to chase after shoplifters or anything, “which is totally understandable. My well-being in life is more important than a product in a store.” Dillon’s training specified that in the event of a crime, he call the cops but stay on premises.
Most people would agree that a child actively being abducted by a stranger who seemed more liquor than man is a good reason to break protocol. In 76 percent of missing child homicide cases, the kid is killed within three hours of the abduction. So yeah, an abducted child probably necessitates a somewhat different response than, say, a lawnmower-jacking. But holy nuts, try telling that to Home Depot. Once he got back, Dillon says the manager on duty chastised him. Two weeks later, he met with an HR representative, and two weeks after that, he was fired.
They set things up to get Dillon his final paycheck, had him sign a piece of paper that said he understood his ass was Home-Depot-brand grass, and then it was all over. Dillon was an unemployed vigilante hero, sorta like Batman during that chunk of The Dark Knight Rises when he lives in a hole.
2. He Posted About It On Facebook And Was Instantly Famous
If this had happened a hundred years ago, Dillon would’ve been out on the street with no recourse. Also, Home Depot probably would’ve hired Pinkerton detectives to firebomb his house. But this happened in 2017, and Zeus help us, we have Facebook now.
“For the first day or two, I was still really pissed off about it. After that I was more anxious … am I going to be able to pay rent next month?”
About 60 percent of Facebook’s business comes from people posting to relieve their anxiety, either about specific events or about the general uncaring nature of this bleak pit of despair we call a Universe. Dillon posted a letter he’d gotten from the Oregon Employment Department to his wall:
The letter was basically proof that he hadn’t been terminated for bad behavior, and was eligible for unemployment benefits. “I kinda posted that letter up to my friends as kind of a ‘Fuck yeah, I’m not going to be homeless!'”
That was July 3rd. By July 4th, the internet had blown up Dillon’s story like the hands of so many incautious fireworks users, with over 20,000 shares and hundreds of comments.
“The night before, I had a few friends really pissed off about it. I was kinda just trying to put it out of my mind and enjoy one day without freaking out. I ended up going to my friend Lisa’s house, where we had this kinda backyard campfire, roasting hot dogs and watching fireworks, and my phone would not stop making noises, because suddenly I was getting hundreds and hundreds of friend requests and messages and notifications throughout all my social media accounts, and out of nowhere I just started blowing up.”
Dillon was suddenly worldwide news. He sat down with interviews for NBC affiliates and various news websites. By July 5th, his story had spread as far afield as The Daily Mail, with a rare true story, and it quickly spread among such journalistic luminaries as the sages at ViralNova.
It’s worth noting that The Daily Mail, ViralNova and most of the sites covering Dillon’s story didn’t speak to him at all. They grabbed quotes from articles written by reporters who had, threw in some images from Dillon’s Facebook page, and called that shit a day. For them, it was easy content.
And for Dillon?
3. Going Viral Meant Backlash
This may just be his personality, but Dillon seems to have found going viral about as enjoyable as getting a virus. “It was completely overwhelming. I honestly had no idea how to feel.”
Even a week into the fallout, “I’m honestly still amazed it happened at all. I was amazed when I got any kind of attention from the local news, and every time I find out the story reached somewhere else, I’m still completely flabbergasted. To be completely honest, it feels really surreal. I have no idea what’s going on.”
Since Dillon’s story is such a clear-cut case of Good vs. Stupid, and since “preventing a kidnapping” is pretty apolitical (although who knows where we’ll be in 2020), most people have been pretty supportive of Dillon. But with the internet, “most people like me” still means “the population of several small cities hates me.”
“There have been a lot of messages of people who just have vitriol running through their veins.” Dillon deleted the really ugly stuff he received. (“It’s kinda one of those situations where if I held onto them, I was going to keep reading them and let them get to me.”) Some of the comments on the Daily Mail article give you an idea of what he’s dealt with. One commenter launched into baffling Portland-bashing, ranting, “It’s Portland, one of the most uncharitable, rudest cities on the planet. Having lived there I can definitely see a supervisor getting angry that a worker ‘wasted time’ trine[sic] to help save another human being- really nasty place.”
But by God, this is the internet. Here, we shoot the messenger. We also shoot the subject of the message. And the message itself. Imagine the internet as a forest of gun barrels, pointed everywhere all the time, firing whenever they get hit by a breeze.
Dillon appreciates the positive support, but he thinks the harassment of his colleagues just made things worse: “Ironically, in a situation that was just kinda lacking humanity, a lot of the kickback was just kinda lacking humanity. And that seems wrong to me.”
Now it’s time for the upside.
5. The Internet Shamed Home Depot Into Doing The Right Thing, But That’s Not What Helped
Like we said, Dillon’s been rehired by Home Depot. Once the fallout became clear, they leapt into action and Did The Right Thing by offering Dillon his job back and promising not to take any vengeance on his career at a later date. It actually took Dillon a few days to figure out they’d changed their mind.
“So what happened was, I had done my first TV interview … and right afterwards, the manager of my old store called me up. We had a brief conversation, I told him at this point I don’t really have time to talk … and he said, ‘OK, we’ll talk later’ … I found out after the fact that he was calling me to offer my job back, but we never got into that. The way I found out … was when a reporter called me for a follow-up interview and asked me questions about the offer.”
Home Depot’s PR team had apparently sent press releases out announcing that they’d offered Dillon his old position, “so I had to contact them via email and had a nice back-and-forth with one of their HR directors over the weekend. And over the weekend, they did offer me my job back, with back pay.”
His first day back was this Monday. “It was very interesting. To be completely honest, I’m really worried about working there still, but I kinda don’t really have a choice in the matter. I was on unemployment, and one of the requirements was if you get a job offer, take it.”
Right now he’s “hoping for the best.” But he was also clear to me that what he appreciated wasn’t the harassment on his behalf, or getting his job back.
“What really stuck in my mind is people who sent me messages saying, just, ‘How are you handling this?’ ‘How are you doing?’ The fact that people weren’t trying to jump on this bandwagon, but were genuinely concerned with how I was doing. That genuinely made my day.”
Maybe keep that in mind if you ever feel the need to respond to a viral story of some injustice from behind your keyboard. Let the person involved know you give a shit. That might be the most helpful thing you can do.