Music, Pokémon Go communities converge to support assault victim

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The Pokémon Go community and music communities have rallied behind Vinnie Mannino, who was brutally beaten on Nov. 15. (courtesy photo)

After a Winston-Salem man was brutally beaten while playing Pokémon Go late at night, his friends rally to his side and start raising money to cover his medical expenses.

Jimmy Greer had finished a bartending shift at Single Brothers bar on Nov. 15 and was playing Pokémon Go when he discovered his friend, Vincent George Mannino, badly beaten in the parking lot of Famous Toastery in Winston-Salem’s Entertainment District at 4:10 a.m.

The shock felt by Mannino’s friends in reaction to the brazen nature of the attack, which took place in a well-traveled area of downtown Winston-Salem, is matched only by their surprise at the outpouring of support.

“The sheer brutality of it could lead someone to believe that there’s some underlying cause,” Greer said. “I’ve known plenty of people who have been mugged, and none of them ended up looking like that. But there are plenty of criminally disturbed people who would do it.”

Eric Johnson, an administrator of the Pokémon Go Winston-Salem Facebook page who has known Mannino since July, said he feels certain that the attack against Mannino was not personal.

“It’s a random act of violence,” he said. “It’s not targeted at a demographic or Pokémon Go players. It’s someone with a mental disease or defect. If you think about it, it’s scary. It could happen to anyone at any time.”

Winston-Salem police released a surveillance video on Monday showing the 39-year-old Mannino walking westward on West Sixth Street past the partially constructed Arts For Arts Sake building, followed by an unidentified male. The video shows the unidentified man stopping and scanning the area for onlookers after crossing Liberty Street, and then continuing in pursuit of Mannino out of camera view.

The day after Mannino’s attack, Sloane Johnson — Eric’s wife and also an administrator of the Pokémon Go Winston-Salem page — set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to help cover her friend’s phone and electrical bill while he’s recovering. Within three hours, the effort had raised $1,400. On the following Saturday, the local Pokémon Go group held a “lure party,” or vigil, for Mannino. And on Sunday at 1 p.m., about 125 people met at Winston Square Park to walk Mannino’s customary Pokémon Go route, and then at 5 p.m. another 50 or so people walked the route again. Through the online fundraiser and passing a hat at the gatherings, Eric Johnson said the crew has raised more than $13,000, including a $5,000 contribution from an anonymous donor, to defray Maninno’s medical expenses.

“He is literally the most frustrating internet troll on the Pokémon Go page,” Johnson said. “We call it ‘Trolling Lures for Vinnie.’ He was our troll. When you walk him out of the computer into real life he’s the kind of person who’s going to argue with you about everything, but without question is going to give the shirt off his back to his worst enemy.”

Before he became an administrator for the page, Johnson said he and Mannino got in an argument. Johnson was temporarily banned from the page to allow the dispute to cool. Johnson had promised himself he would give Mannino a piece of his mind when they met in person, but instead they became good friends. Mannino walked at a fast pace, and his Pokémon Go route was also his workout regimen. Johnson would occasionally walk with Mannino, who had lost 40 pounds over the past several months.

“I was a distance runner although I got injured, and I was planning on trying to run a half-marathon,” Johnson said. “I told Vinnie: ‘If you lose the pounds, I’ll walk it with you.’ He may not be able to walk, but I’ll push him in a wheelchair. I’m going to push him 13.2 miles. He’s doing it next spring.”

The flurry of support for Mannino has reached critical mass, and one of the members of the Facebook group recently enlisted the new 3 Blind Dice game store in the West End neighborhood to pitch in. The store is planning an event to raise money for Mannino on Dec. 18.

Meanwhile, Mannino’s old friend, Jimmy Greer, has galvanized the local music scene to join the effort. The two have known each other since they were in high school, but Greer said they weren’t especially close. They started hanging out more over the summer when Mannino started coming downtown to play Pokémon Go.

“He’s a very genuine person,” Greer said. In addition to being a Pokémon Go enthusiast, Greer said Mannino is also a self-proclaimed “brony,” an adult fan of the children’s cartoon “My Little Pony.”

Justice For Vinnie takes place on Dec. 4 with a singer-songwriter set at Silver Moon Saloon (632 Trade St., W-S) from 4 to 7 p.m., and then a band lineup at Test Pattern (701 Trade St., W-S) from 7 p.m. onward. A silent auction takes place at Single Brothers (627 Trade St., W-S) from 4 to 8 p.m.

“He doesn’t care what people think,” Greer said. “He’s a huge Star Wars fan. He’s into science fiction. He’s himself. He’s very vocal about his beliefs. He’s very liberal. A lot of the time he kept to himself on his Pokémon walks. If there’s someone there he would talk your ear off, but he was just as happy to be walking five miles a night by himself.”

Greer took the initiative with help from some friends to organize a multi-venue benefit concert on Dec. 4 involving Test Pattern, Silver Moon Saloon and Single Brothers — all within a block of where Mannino was attacked.

The outpouring of support is both a function of the relationships Mannino established and the fact that people who never even met him care about downtown, Greer said.

“A lot of it was due greatly to the Pokémon Go players that know him,” Greer said. “A large part is the downtown mindset as whole, with people being concerned about someone who was attacked in our backyard.”

Mannino is recovering at Baptist Hospital, and Greer said he’s showing signs of improvement.

“One of his teachers came in and was singing show tunes because he was involved in drama, and he started singing along to one of the songs,” Greer said. “He said something about not knowing his parts. He’s in there. He’ll recall people’s names, and other times he’ll get it wrong like he’s asleep. He did know the release date of the new Star Wars movie and the name of the main actress. One of his family members asked the date and he nailed it. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I didn’t know about the new movie. They asked, ‘Who is she?’ and he responded, ‘She’s a big deal.’”

Both Johnson and Greer said they feel strongly that people shouldn’t feel unsafe downtown because of what happened to their friend. Johnson said he suggests that Pokémon Go players post their plans on the Facebook page and group together if they feel the need, but he still goes out after dark on his own to play.

Greer said the most important lesson of the attack is that people should be aware of their surroundings.

“It could have been due in part to the fact that he didn’t look like he was paying attention because he was looking at his phone,” Greer said. “That could be someone posting on Instagram. A predator may have seen that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. It’s basically being aware of your surroundings and being safe. When I’m working at the bar we don’t let each other walk to our cars alone. We always watch each other.”

To make a donation to help cover Vincent Mannino’s medical bills, visit gofundme.com/m7-relief-for-vinnie.