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Thousands support special needs employee berated by customer

Nov. 12, 2013 at 4:56 PM ET

Chris Tuttle and his sister Jamie Virkler.
courtesy of Jamie Virkler
Chris Tuttle and his sister Jamie Virkler.

One ugly encounter with a customer last weekend has resulted in thousands of messages of support, handshakes and hugs from strangers for a Wegmans employee in upstate New York.

On Nov. 9, Chris Tuttle, 28, who has Asperger’s syndrome, told his family over dinner that earlier that day a female customer scolded him at the store where he works for scanning items too slowly, and then loudly complained to the manager that he was not moving fast enough.

“When she was mean to me, it made me really upset and sad, and tears were about to fall down my face,’’ Chris told TODAY.com.

Chris normally works in maintenance at the Wegmans in Liverpool, N.Y., but occasionally helps out with the register if things get busy.

“He said, 'I had the worst day ever,’’’ his older sister, Jamie Virkler, told TODAY.com. “He was so upset and wondering why someone would be so mean and so nasty. It was really personal. This is the first time someone has come at him full throttle like that.”

Virkler took to Facebook a day later, writing a post describing what happened and asking for people to give Chris, whose genial personality is known to many customers of the store, a shout-out to help boost his spirits.

Jamie was simply hoping for a handful of comments she could print out for Chris to help him feel better if he was having a bad day. Instead, her post has since garnered nearly 100,000 likes and more than 15,000 comments in support of Chris from as far away as Australia and South Africa.

“It wasn’t until four o’clock in the afternoon that day when I first looked at (the post), and I honestly just cried,’’ Jamie said, of the posts from strangers as well as those who know her brother. “Everyone was coming forward with their stories. He’s worked there for seven years, so he knows a lot of customers, and his personality is so much bigger than he is.’’

Jamie specifically put the post on Facebook knowing that Chris, who lives with their father in Baldwinsville, N.Y., would see it because he is constantly on social media, reading and commenting on various posts.

“That's his entertainment,’’ she said. “I thought, I had to reach him through an avenue he is already into, then I know he'll definitely see it. His personality is to go through every single comment. He is so appreciative for them.”

The supportive comments made him confident enough to work the register again the next day. It hasn’t just been people on Facebook reaching out to Chris, either. He has worked at the store every day since his sister’s post, and customers have specifically waited in his line at the cash register even if other lines are open just to shake his hand or give him a hug.

“It makes me feel blessed and loved and cared for,’’ Chris said. “They made me feel a lot better afterwards. It was overwhelming, and it was really supportive for all those people to be in my line, shaking my hand, hugging me and giving me nice cards.”

“The community has come together and made him feel good about himself,’’ Jamie said.

The woman who yelled at Chris has not reached out to apologize and her identity remains a mystery, according to Jamie. However, Jamie hopes the outpouring of support makes people take a deep breath the next time they might choose to yell at someone like that.

“People are coming to me saying, ‘I have a story like that where I got angry,’’’ Jamie said. “I think it's fair to say everyone has had a time where they've taken their anger out on someone else. I hope it's helping people take a second look at what that looks like from the other end, like from Chris's view.” 

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