It was a tragic story of a grieving widower's bad luck and loss — a tale that led some members at a church in Georgia to open up their wallets and help. But they are likely regretting that decision after learning that the stranger they felt such deep compassion for was blatantly lying.
It all started when a man who identified as Donald Ray Pitts randomly approached the altar August 3 at Salem Baptist Church in Dalton, Georgia, telling the congregation all about his dreadful woes.
"He told us a story that his wife had passed away during child birth six months ago and within the last couple of days his mother that lived in Houston, Texas had passed away as well," Pastor Noel Caldwell told WGCL-TV. "And he said he was on his way to her funeral that night."
But there's one major problem with this story: it's the same tale that Pitts purportedly pedaled from the pulpit at other area churches, Caldwell claims.
In a video recording of Pitts' speech in front of parishioners, the man pointed to a woman who he said was his sister and claimed she was helping him raise his infant daughter after his wife's untimely death last January.
"That is my daughter April. She was born Jan. 2, and her mother passed away during her birth," he claimed. "I have been a single father for six months and it has been extremely difficult obstacle to overcome and I still haven't overcome it."
Pitts added, "The Lord has blessed me tremendously all through my life … I have to be strong for my daughter."
Watch his emotional speech below:
There were just enough members in the 350-person church for Pitts to blend in, leading some to believe that he might actually have been a part of the congregation. And his story was compelling enough at the time.
That said, looking back, Caldwell said that the way in which Pitts approached the church community was odd.
"He walked in the side door, which was odd. He walked in front of everyone and went right towards the altar and started praying," the preacher said. "One of our pastors went and knelt beside him to pray as well. Then he asked if he could address the congregation, and asked for prayers."
It appears, though, that this might have been a ploy used at other houses of worship, as Caldwell told WGCL-TV that Pitts gave the same speech three days later at three different churches.
The allegations are being explored by the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, but since Pitts didn't blatantly ask Salem Baptist Church for money and members simply gave based on their own compassionate desire to help, it's possible no crime was committed.
Detective Scott McAllister told the Daily Citizen that he is investigating the incident as a possible scam and that at least four churches were impacted, though Pitts may have visited others outside of Whitfield County.