YouTuber Pranked 8-year-old at Target, so Locals Gave Child a Shopping Spree

Handout photo by T.J. Lyles II.
Gabe Lyles after his shopping spree at Target in Southington, Conn., on July 2, 2023. The day before, he was in tears after being pranked at the store. The Washington Post obscured the license plate for privacy reasons.

When T.J. Lyles II took his 8-year-old son, Gabe, for a quick shopping trip to Target, the last thing he expected was for Gabe to be pranked by a group of strangers.

But when he and his son were walking through the electronics aisle at Lyles’s local Target store in Southington, Conn., on Saturday, three men approached them.

They asked Lyles and his son – who has bilateral severe-to-profound hearing loss, and usually wears hearing aids – if they wanted to take part in a “fill-a-cart challenge,” in which they would be blindfolded and given 30 seconds to fill a shopping cart with items.

“Whatever was in the cart, they would pay for,” Lyles said the men offered. “My little guy really wanted to do that.”

Lyles said the men told him and his son that they are affiliated with the popular YouTuber “MrBeast,” whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson. MrBeast has a sprawling audience across several social media platforms, and – in addition to creating viral videos – is known for his philanthropic endeavors. In January, for instance, he covered the cost of cataract surgery for 1,000 people who were blind or near-blind.

When the men mentioned MrBeast to Lyles and Gabe, “my son lit up like a Christmas tree,” said Lyles, explaining that Gabe is a big fan of the social media star.

“One of his main dreams is to be a YouTuber, and he wants to be famous. He thought this was his chance,” Lyles said of his son.

While the men were outlining the rules of the challenge, Lyles said, Gabe leaned in closer because he was having a hard time hearing them. He then told the men he is partially deaf, to which they replied: “That’s exactly who we are looking for,” Lyles said.

Before agreeing to participate, Lyles asked a Target employee about the legitimacy of the challenge, and “he couldn’t confirm it because he’s not a manager,” Lyles said.

So, to satisfy his eager son, Lyles agreed that they would partake in the fill-a-cart challenge together. About 10 seconds in to the 30-second challenge, though, Lyles heard the three men run away while he and his son were still blindfolded, excitedly filling their carts.

“At that point, I’m taking off my blindfold, and I now have to tell my son that he got pranked,” Lyles said.

The men were not affiliated with MrBeast, and the challenge was a fake.

Gabe was shocked and humiliated, Lyles said.

“He’s in tears, and I’m trying to calm him down. He was devastated,” Lyles said. “He’s a very loving kid. He wants to see the best in people.”

Lyles said he was “angered to the nth degree,” and decided to post about the incident on Facebook.

“I do not know what type of sick individual targets kids with special needs,” he wrote in the post. “I understand as an adult I should have known better but honestly I did not think someone would be as disgusting to stoop that low.”

Lyles’s hope in sharing the story, he said, was to prevent the same pranksters from hurting other children.

“I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to other kids,” he said. “That’s what really kills me.”

Shortly after Lyles shared the Facebook post, it came to the attention of the chair of the town’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

“This little boy was left in tears in an aisle blindfolded,” said Melissa Lapila Hallgren. “That is, on every level, not okay.”

She reached out to Lyles to ask for the full story.

“I feel personally responsible to protect every disabled person in my community,” she said.

Once they spoke, she knew she wanted to help them out.

“I summoned my commission and got a majority emergency vote, and we were able to allocate some funds to help this little boy,” she said.

Along with another commissioner, Lapila Hallgren stopped by the Target store, and asked staff if the company would be willing to match their donation of $200 for Gabe to have a shopping spree at Target. They agreed.

“It was absolutely fabulous,” said Lapila Hallgren. “His day was going to be turned around.”

“Despite the unfortunate circumstances of this event, our store team members were delighted to assist, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know Gabe and his family,” a Target spokesperson said in an email to The Washington Post. “We’re also grateful to the Town of Southington Commission of Persons with Disabilities for their gift to Gabe.”

When Lapila Hallgren told Lyles the news, “I cried on the spot,” he said. “I could not believe that they would do something that nice.”

Lapila Hallgren arranged for Gabe’s $400 shopping spree to take place Sunday, the day after the prank. “It was a holiday weekend, but there was urgency to this,” she said. “I didn’t want this little boy to have to wait.”

Gabe, who is an only child, was “over the moon,” his father said, and filled his cart with toys, games and stuffed animals.

“Thank you so much, everybody, for making my dream come true,” Gabe said in an Facebook video from the Target parking lot, right after the shopping spree. “Thank you all who did this for me.”

After the story aired on local news, one of the pranksters posted a YouTube video of Lyles and Gabe being pranked, which Lyles said he believes was edited to exclude the exchange about his son’s disability, as well as the prankster saying he works for MrBeast. The Post reached the prankster by phone, and he denied editing the video.

MrBeast did not respond to a request for comment from The Post, but Lyles said representatives of the YouTuber contacted his family.

Although the incident was deeply distressing for his son, Lyles said, it taught him a valuable lesson: “If it’s too good to be true, then it usually is.”

It also reinforced that there are good people out there.

“I’m so happy it ended this way for him,” he said. “We hope it inspires people to do nice things for others.”

Handout photo by T.J. Lyles II.
Gabe Lyles with an employee of a Target in Southington, Conn., on July 2, 2023.