Hoaxes

Meet Hunter Dunn, the Young Man Whose Identity Was Stolen for the ‘Dave on Wheels’ Hoax

"My computer opened up so many avenues for me, but now I do not feel comfortable even talking with my friends online."
 Meet Hunter Dunn, the Young Man Whose Identity Was Stolen for the Dave on Wheels Hoax

Mr. Dunn and friends. (Photo: Facebook)

It is easy to see why those who fell for the Dave on Wheels hoax fell so hard. Followers of “Dave” on sites like Twitter and The Chive thought they were reading posts from a deaf young man suffering from cerebral palsy who had worked tirelessly to overcome his obstacles, all the while maintaining a positive outlook and relatably wry sense of humor.

“Dave’s” was a genuine feel-good story, a buoyant narrative that rose above the internet’s impulse toward apathy, irony and just plain hate. His disarming personality and refusal to be held back by his physical limitations made people feel closer to him. I’m just like you, he always said. Despite my disability, I’m just like you.

But after “Dave” suddenly passed away from pneumonia following a meteoric rise to fame–including a supportive tweet from Kim Kardashian–a website emerged called Dave on Wheels Exposed, revealing that the entire thing had been a sham to “Dave’s” thousands of loyal fans. The site was started by a Canadian beauty vlogger named Kristi-Anne Beil, whose friend had been close with “Dave.”

In the aftermath of the hoax, as former friends of “Dave” struggle to unearth who was really behind the Dave on Wheels persona, one aspect of the controversy seems to have been glossed over. Who is the real “Dave on Wheels,” the actual person in the pictures that the hoaxster used to wrangle sympathy and attention?

Ms. Beil, the author of Dave on Wheels Exposed, discovered through some internet sleuthing that the man in the picture is actually named Hunter Dunn.

Mr. Dunn is a 28-year-old musician and author living in Danville, Va. He has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, but is not deaf, his mother, Linda Dunn, told Betabeat. The Dunns don’t know how “Dave” originally procured the photo of Mr. Dunn. One theory was that the hoaxster lifted photos from an article published in a local Virginia newspaper about Mr. Dunn, but “Dave” has been impersonating Mr. Dunn since 2007 and that story was published in December 2011. Another theory is that Mr. Dunn, who has made a name for himself in the music world, is Facebook friends with the person behind the hoax, said Ms. Dunn.

Since the Dunns were informed about the hoax by ABC News NYC on Monday afternoon, Ms. Dunn told Betabeat that it’s been difficult for them to come to terms with why they were targeted. “As a mom, I was angry, I was frustrated and I think it’s very cruel that someone would do this,” Ms. Dunn confided to Betabeat by phone. “I don’t understand how they found out about Hunter. Hunter was very frustrated, and he wanted to know why. He was hurt, because he’s written two children’s books, he’s got music on iTunes–he has struggled so hard to function in this global society we live in.”

Like “Dave” claimed to, Mr. Dunn uses a special computer called a MyTobii P10 that tracks his eye movements in order to allow him to communicate and surf the web. Until he received the MyTobii P10, he said in an earlier interview with makers of the device:

I was totally locked into a body with limited communication with the outside world. In today’s global society, this was not good. With the help of a speech therapist and a rehab engineer at Duke, I was exposed to the Tobii P10 eye gaze computer. It was awesome. Even with my uncontrolled movements due to my cerebral palsy, for the first time there was a system that could read my eyes. Now, I could surf the net, write my music lyrics without someone to put it on paper for me, chat with my friends, and email people on my own. Communication was finally really opened for me. The freedom of downloading music to my iPod, turning on my TV, and scrolling channels became a reality as well!

Prior to receiving the MyTobii, Mr. Dunn wrote two children’s books. “He had to spell to us each word by using his eyes to show which letter he wanted. It took over a year to do that!” Ms. Dunn said. Mr. Dunn also writes music for an alternative rock band he started called The Hunter Dunn Project. Some of the singles he’s written–with lyrics penned on the MyTobii–are even available on iTunes. What he’s managed to accomplish despite his disability is remarkable, and yet his accomplishments–which are arguably even greater than “Dave’s”–have been largely glossed over in the wake of the scandal.

 Meet Hunter Dunn, the Young Man Whose Identity Was Stolen for the Dave on Wheels Hoax

Mr. Dunn and his My Tobii P10. (Photo: Tobii.com)

“I do not understand why I was targeted by ‘Dave Rose,'” Mr. Dunn told Betabeat through his MyTobii. “Now, I know you cannot trust people like I thought you could. My computer opened up so many avenues for me, but now I do not feel comfortable even talking with my friends online.  I hope that no one else ever finds themselves in this situation. It is one experience I wish I had never had!”

Mr. Dunn’s mother added that the MyTobii “was Hunter’s way to be a part of society and [“Dave Rose”] has taken that from him. That’s why I’m angry.”

The Dave on Wheels hoax unwittingly dragged Mr. Dunn into the spotlight. But the happy irony is that the inspirational Mr. Dunn is actually everything that “Dave on Wheels” pretended to be for sympathy.

“Everyone thinks that the victims are the girls affected by Dave, no one considers that Hunter is actually the biggest victim in this entire story. And he didn’t even have a choice about it,” Ms. Beil, the author of Dave on Wheels Exposed, told Betabeat by email. “I want Hunter to be able to take something positive out of this! Maybe some exposure for what he is accomplishing. It really is remarkable.”

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com