JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owners of two Baymeadows gas stations say they have no idea why an image depicting a President Barack Obama doll wearing a noose is linked to their Shell stores.
They say they had nothing to do with the picture that has circulated and created a firestorm, and they hope all the controversy just goes away.
Countless emails from viewers sent to Channel 4 complaining about the photo claim the picture was snapped at a Shell gas station on Baymeadows Road near Interstate 95.
There are actually two Shell gas stations in the area -- one to the east and one to west of I-95. Their owners said neither had anything to do with the picture, and they said the photo was not taken at either of their stores.
The owners said the picture traces back to North Carolina, where a man drove the meant-to-be-offensive truck filled with lots of hanging political figures to fill up gas. But somewhere down the line, rumor had it that a Jacksonville store had it on display to show anti-Obama sentiment.
"The taking of the picture did not occur anywhere in Jacksonville and, in fact, appears to be part of a national prank on social media sites," First Coast Energy, which owns one of the Shell stations, said in a statement Monday. "Our company, gas stations/convenience stores and our employees were not involved in any way with the taking, posting or distribution of this picture, and do not condone the actions taken to create it or post it online."
Shell Oil Company, based in Houston, Texas, also responded.
"Any time we hear of an incident such as this, we notify the appropriate law enforcement authorities," the company said in a statement. "We find depictions such as this to be extremely offensive and regret that the Shell image has been attached to the actions of a non-Shell affiliated individual."
Customers said they hope the picture that went viral doesn't hurt local businesses.
"It's ridiculous," said Theresa Knight, a former Shell employee. "I actually used to work here a while back and I know the people that work here, and they are very good people and they wouldn't do something like that."
The gas stations' attorneys wouldn't say if this controversy has affected business at either of the stores, but customers appeared to be coming and going regularly, and buying gas, food and drinks Monday.