Internet Users Search for John Doe's Identity

PHOTO: Benjaman Kyle suffers from retrograde amnesia and has not known his true identity since being found in 2004.

The Internet is banding together in search of the identity of a man who does not know who he is.

The man who goes by the name Benjaman Kyle is a working, productive member of society who struggles to get by as a "John Doe." He does not know his real name or almost anything about his background. He made up the name Benjaman Kyle just so he'd have a name.

He is one of the country's John and Jane Does whose lives are mysteries to society and to themselves. These seemingly invisible citizens don't know their names, where they're from or who their relatives are. They are blank slates.

They aren't eligible for health insurance, can't pay rent or get a driver's license. They can't get a job or apply for unemployment benefits.

Kyle has been struggling to live this way since he was found naked, unresponsive and covered with fire ant bites behind a Burger King dumpster in Richmond Hill, Ga., in August 2004.

When he awoke in a hospital, "I had no idea who I was. I couldn't remember," Kyle told ABCNews.com. "I had no idea how I got there."

Fingerprints and searches in both national and international databases turned up no matches for Kyle. He has been fingerprinted more than five times by the FBI with no luck.

"I'm not in any of the databases that they can search," he said. "Basically, I don't exist. I'm a walking, talking person who is invisible to all the bureaucracy."

Now, with the help of a website, a documentary, Reddit and Twitter, people are rallying behind Kyle to solve the mystery of his identity or, at the very least, to attempt to help him get a new Social Security number.

"I've been working on this for almost two years now, and I truly believe within the next month, people all over the country will get him a new Social Security number," filmmaker John Wikstrom told ABCNews.com in an email. "Their collective altruism, combined with the networking power of the Internet, is really something."

Wikstrom made a documentary about Kyle and found himself personally frustrated with how few resources there are for the living unidentified. He has since dedicated himself to helping Kyle find out who he is.

Wikstrom posted his documentary, "Finding Benjaman" online and has created a website dedicated to Kyle. He also started a petition on the White House's "We the People" website.

The "We the People" initiative creates the opportunity for people's causes to be addressed by the White House. The petition needs to garner 25,000 signatures in 30 days for the White House to consider it.

"What's really inspiring was how quickly people banded together to sign and spread the petition," Wikstrom said. "Within one day, we got 6,000 signatures, and the Vimeo [video] view count is almost up to 100,000. That really seems to be the narrative of what happened. Since the government hasn't been able to do anything, people are taking this into their own hands."

The "Grant Benjaman Kyle a New Social Security Number" petition has more than 7,500 signatures, but still needs more than 17,000 to be considered.

Following the documentary's release, Kyle was able to get a special Florida state identification card, but still doesn't have a birth certificate or Social Security number. He has been told that because of the presumption that he was given a Social Security number at some point, he cannot get another one.

"There are very limited situations where we'll actually issue a new number," Kia Green Anderson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Social Security Administration, told ABCNews.com.

The rare cases that warrant a new number are usually cases where there's a problem with an existing number such as victims of identity theft or domestic abuse who continue to have problems, Anderson said. Obtaining a replacement number requires the presentation of several pieces of documentation.

Kyle's request is uncharted territory. Anderson did not have an answer for what someone like Kyle would have to do for a number. She suggested he contact the Social Security Administration.

In addition to the efforts for a new Social Security number, a Reddit question-and-answer session with Kyle generated new buzz about him and Reddit users have taken up Kyle's cause.

The Reddit chat generated a few leads about Kyle's previous identity.

"Nothing is solidified, and we're still on the hunt, but there were two people who believe they met him working at a Waffle House in Georgia," Wikstrom said.

The possible Waffle House connection could make sense because when Kyle recently got a job at a restaurant, he said he was amazed to find that he instinctively knew how to operate the machinery and do a stove repair. The skills led him to believe that he may have previously worked in a kitchen.

"There were also multiple people who reached out to Benjaman, offering to help him travel to Indianapolis and Denver, places he remembers various details of," Wikstrom said. "While Benjaman needs to continue working during the holidays, Benjaman indeed may travel next year, all because of the good samaritans of the Internet."

Kyle acknowledges the naysayers who may accuse him of faking his condition, but insists there would be no reason to do so.

"You'll find a lot of people who say it's all bogus, that I'm faking it for whatever reason -- but one thing's for sure: I'm not getting rich out of it," Kyle said. "I'm 64. I'm trying to get on with my life as best as I can. I figure I've got 10 more years to live considering my social and economic bracket. I can't make any long-term plans other than try to get along mostly day to day."

Many of the country's living unidentified suffer from mental illnesses that render them unable to remember who they are. Scans of their fingerprints lead to no matches, indicating that they do not have criminal records. Their faces do not appear in databases for missing people.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), working under the U.S. Department of Justice, has several databases, but does not currently have one that includes the living unidentified. But after being presented with a number of cases of living unidentified, they are developing a new database that they hope to launch by the end of this year.

"The traditional system is in dealing with unidentified deceased, but we know there are unidentified living," NamUs spokesman Todd Matthews told ABCNews.com. "We have to include the missing. They're missing from somewhere."

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...