The picture captured pure joy.
Isabella Rabena had just caught a T-shirt blasted into the crowd at her first Sixers game. Her mouth wide open, showing Rita’s Water Ice blue.
But the picture the 13-year-old girl’s father posted on Facebook soon became a tool for mocking the special needs child.
“Autism Intensifies,” read the meme posted by Felice Duprey.
Isabella does not have autism, but Down syndrome.
Frederick Rabena has seen the awkward reactions and looks as a father.
“When you’re with a child with special needs 24-seven, that disability kind of disappears,” he said. “And when you’re out in public and you see that other people see it, that’s really when the pain can resurface.”
“I know I can handle it and deal with it,” he added. “You just want to protect the child.”
So when he saw the post about his daughter, he replied, asking why someone would do something like that.
“I’m glad your (sic) happy with your child,” Duprey replied in a conversation that Rabena screenshot. “I personally think abortions are around for a reason; But, that’s me.”
“I blocked her and was pretty outraged,” said Rabena, 49, who lives in Philadelphia but has summered in Margate his entire life. “Instead of just letting it pass, I felt like she should be outed and this disgusting behavior she had.”
So, he put up a post that got copied and shared many times.
It especially touched those who have special needs children, including the autism community.
But people didn’t just reply, they took to the Internet to track the woman down. First, it was her Facebook page, which has since been shut down. Then, her Instagram. Gone now, too.
Numbers listed for Duprey and family members were disconnected, and her fiancee did not respond to a Facebook message asking for comment about the post.
Finally, they found her wedding page, announcing her upcoming marriage. The guestbook is now filled with people in support of Isabella and her family, and taking Duprey to task for the meme.
In response, Duprey added to her guestbook introduction.
“Appreciate you all taking time out of your pathetic lives to write me a message,” she wrote. “Clearlyh Mr. Fredrick (sic) is a snowflake considering he couldn’t fight his own battle. He posted in a troll group trolling me, I trolled back. If you can’t stand the heat of the kitchen, then get out. Anywho, thanks everyone. You guys are great!”
Meanwhile, Rabena said he was met Sunday morning with continued messages from family members who sent pictures with disabled children accompanied by crude remarks.
He talked to police both in his hometown and Watford, N.D., where Duprey lives.
One of the family members who messaged has a criminal history, he was told. A news story in the Minot Daily News says he was charged with raping and assaulting a former girlfriend.
Because it’s online, there wasn’t much police could do.
But Rabena said he was told that the officer would go to the man’s home and give him a warning.
In the meantime, Rabena will continue speaking out, and protecting the youngest of his four children.
“Isabella is such a beautiful, vibrant young girl,” he said. “She’s a cheerleader. An active girl who loves sports, loves arts and crafts. Pretty much all the typical 13-year-old stuff: dressing up and make up and all that good stuff.”
And they’ll continue to spend summers in their beloved Margate.
“Isabella is a water baby,” Rabena said. “She loves the beach. I can’t get her out of the water. The lifeguards are always wonderful with her. They know her by name.”
The picture captured pure joy.