Saturday, January 20, 2018

Man, 72, finds support after attack

FORT MYERS — A Southwest Florida community is rallying around a 72-year-old man this holiday season after authorities say a teenager kicked him to the ground while her friend videotaped the incident on her phone.

A 15-year-old high school basketball player and several teammates were walking through a neighborhood last month when they spotted Robert Lerberg pulling weeds in his yard. Authorities say the teen ran up behind him, kicked Lerberg to the ground and then erupted into laughter. One of the students recorded it, according to Lee County Sheriff's officials.

Authorities said the teen also allegedly knocked on another door that same day and slapped an 89-year-old victim in the face. She faces two charges of felony battery on a person 65 years old or older. The Associated Press is not naming the suspect because she is a minor. The suspect said she was only imitating similar acts she's seen online, deputies said.

"That was one of the worst things done to me in my life," Lerberg said. "All I could say was, 'Very funny, thanks a lot.' "

The incident sparked outrage in the community, and prompted supporters to create a Facebook page titled "Fort Myers Supports Robert Lerberg." The sheriff even held a news conference to speak out against the brazen unkindness.

Several members of the basketball team and Cypress Lake High School principal and athletic director stopped by Lerberg's home Saturday to apologize and lend their support.

Lerberg told the News-Press they all hugged and cried.

"That meant a lot to me."

Lerberg said he hasn't talked to the suspect.

"By the time you are 15, you should know the difference between right and wrong," he said. "After, she was laughing."

Authorities are investigating a similar incident that occurred around the same time in the same neighborhood to see if they're connected. A 47-year-old woman said she was out walking when a group of people approached her, threw something at her and hit her in the back, according to a Sheriff's Office report. The victim said the incident was also recorded.

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