Ray Krejci is very much alive, thank you.
The highly visible Krejci – the “Mayor of Roosevelt Road” – is an affable and talkative fixture in south Oak Park and Forest Park, although his permanent home is in Melrose Park. A street-warrior, with his long, grey, dreadlocked hair and smiling “God Bless you” to everyone he meets, Krejci is well loved and familiar to many. He even has his own Facebook fan page under the name “Berwyn Bob.”
But Friday, 16-year-old Cecilia Serrano, of Berwyn, created a new Facebook page alleging he had died. The “R.I.P Berwyn Bob” page gained 1,400 “likes” within hours and the bad news instantly spread around south Oak Park, Berwyn, Forest Park and soon, across the country.
Serrano said she heard the news from a high school friend who had heard it from his grandmother and another older woman. By Saturday morning, commenters from across the country were expressing condolences.
Except Ray is alive and well.
Krejci, who grew up in Berwyn at 14th Street and Home Avenue and attended high school in Berwyn, is currently in a Cicero nursing home recovering from a fall that injured his arm three weeks ago.
“I tripped over one of those cement things in a parking lot by Maple Park,” he said in an interview Saturday, resting comfortably in a hospital room at the nursing home. “I hurt my arm real bad.” Ray was taken to Rush Oak Park Hospital where he stayed for a couple of days and then was transferred to the nursing home.
He’ll be returning to the hospital for surgery on his arm shortly, he said.
Serrano remembered Saturday that “Berwyn Bob” came to her family birthday parties at her father’s house in Cicero and always tried to give money away. “If it was a birthday, he’d try giving the birthday person some cash, but we just couldn’t accept. He was so kind and didn’t take anything for granted.”
Adding to the confusion was the reported July 21 death of a 66-year-old Ray Lynch, on the Blue Line tracks at the Forest Park CTA stop. One person posted a story that he had been injured when a motorcycle crashed and the driver fled the scene, dragging Krejci down Roosevelt Road and injuring him.
None of this was true.
Serrano later posted that Ray was alive and had created another page called “Get Well, Ray, We Love You.”
Some Facebook commenters responded angrily that she shouldn’t post things that she couldn’t verify. Others demanded she remove the site. She said Facebook could not remove the site for two weeks.
“It was spiraling out of control,” she texted Monday morning.
Taryn Wright, a Chicago futures trader and part-time Internet hoax expert says many fake Facebook campaigns are started by young women.
“They seem to often be young women in their late teens or early 20s.” Wright says the motive often is attention. “They relish the numbers and updating the pages. It’s almost an ego boost when they see the number of ‘likes’ rising.”
Wright runs the Warrior Eli Hoax blog, which has outed seven Facebook hoaxes involving people who pretend to have cancer or claim to be parents of children with cancer. One young woman, a medical student, had 83 different Facebook profiles. Internet Munchhausen Syndrome is a name given to people who pretend to be terminally ill on Facebook and other Internet sites.
But Wright says pretending to be ill is only part of it. Wright says the anonymity of the Internet and celebrity status of people who start Facebook hoaxes are addictive to a specific type of personality.
“Exaggeration and lying are blown up by Facebook. It’s an easier way to lie to a big group of people without being called out on it and anonymously.”
Serrano says she didn’t lie, she just reported a rumor that wasn’t true. She said she learned her lesson. “Never support rumors that you ‘think’ are true ’cause they might not be.”
Although Ray is almost a public figure in Berwyn, Forest Park and Oak Park, living on the street means his situation appears vulnerable, said Lynda Schueler of West Suburban Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS).
“He’s exposed to so much. Crime, weather conditions – so much that could endanger his life,” Schueler said. Even though Krejci has a place to sleep every night, his life without a clear safety net worries many of his friends and acquaintances. “He’s been living outside in an environment that doesn’t protect him. I could see where people could think it was plausible [that] he could have been hit by a car,” said Schueler.
“We all need support networks. [Ray] may have his support network in Berwyn, even though he lives in Melrose Park,” she added. “To continue to maintain the friendships he has, that’s most important. We all still need some level of human connection and a support network.”
Krejci said that he was doing well and looked forward to seeing his friends again.
“They look out for me,” he said.