Local stories of “Facebook Justice” usually have satisfying endings. The bad guy is exposed on social media, identified, embarrassed and made to pay for his misdeeds.
But those stories rarely have happy endings.
Earlier this week, though, what started as a case of an angry Wichita restaurant owner determined to find a teen vandal who’d defaced a table turned into an uplifting story of forgiveness, empathy and second chances.
It started on Saturday night when the staff at Reverie, a coffee shop and bakery at 2202 E. Douglas, was cleaning up for the night and found an Instagram handle etched into a wooden tabletop. “Instagram: @Jaylen_Price32,” it said.
Owner Andrew Gough was livid. He tries to keep his shop looking tidy and professional, and the tabletop would have to be replaced. He could hardly believe that the vandal had left behind his identifying information.
He immediately got on Instagram and found an account that matched the handle. He messaged its owner, a teenager named Jaylen Price, whose profile picture showed a squinting, bearded boy with floppy hair. He heard nothing back.
On Sunday, Gough decided to take the same route many other Wichita restaurant and business owners in Wichita have found success with in the age of social media — places like Wichita’s Pumphouse, which over the past couple of years has caught thieves of Chiefs flags, tip jars, bottles of alcohol and more.
Managers simply post a surveillance photo or video on social media, describe what happened and ask the public to help them find the thief. It works almost every time.
On his personal Facebook page, Gough posted a picture of Jaylen from a screen shot and asked if anyone knew him and could help him get in touch. In the meantime, he filed a police report.
“He left something at Reverie and I need to get in touch with him about it,” Gough wrote.
By Monday, he’d found Jaylen’s phone number — and Jaylen’s mother’s phone number. He spoke with them both.
The next day, Jaylen Price, a 17-year-old senior at Northwest High School, came to Reverie with his mother. He was nervous, but he had $130 in his pocket — money he’d earned as a waiter’s assistant at a local restaurant. He gave it to Gough to pay to replace the tabletop, and the two talked.
Jaylen, contacted this week, said that he had gone to Reverie on Saturday night with a friend “to kill time.” He ordered a carbonated mineral water, he said, and while he talked to his friend, he absentmindedly scratched his Instagram handle into the tabletop with the bottle cap.
Before they left, he tried to wipe it away but realized he couldn’t.
“I started going a little into panic mode,” he said. “I just left hoping no one would pursue it or notice.”
When Jaylen got home from work on Monday night, he found his unhappy mother waiting for him. He admitted what he’d done and agreed with his mother that they should go talk with Gough the next day. He also agreed that he should pay for the damage himself.
He was nervous at school all day, he said, and his best friends tried to give him advice. Just own up to it, they told him, and be as polite as you can.
Gough said he was disarmed when he shook Jaylen’s hand and realized that the boy’s palm was sweaty from nerves. Memories came rushing back of when he was a teenage boy and had done things that were less than intelligent.
“I looked at a 17-year-old and saw me making the same kinds of mistakes when I was in high school and getting busted for it,” Gough said.
The two talked about what happened, Gough said, and they laughed at the boneheaded nature of carving one’s contact information into a table and then leaving.
They agreed to stay in touch.
For his part, Jaylen said he’s learned a lesson about owning up to his mistakes. He’s also learned a lesson about compassion and forgiveness, he said.
“I should have owned up to it right then and there. I should have said something,” he said. “But also, it’s human nature that we want to avoid problems like that. I’m really glad it worked out the way it did it, though. It could have been a lot worse.”
Gough snapped a selfie of the two together that night and posted it on Facebook. In the photo, both are smiling.
“Folks, meet my new friend Jaylen. He made a bad choice, but quickly owned up to it. I’m super glad that we were able to resolve the case of the Instagrammed table peacefully with much dignity and respect.
Perhaps, together, we can make a little lemonade out of those lemons he chose to bring into our shop last weekend. Stay tuned!
I look forward to getting to know this young lad. #caseclosed.”