My friend Erin Ellison needs the community’s help in living down the shame and ridicule that her family members have put her through for several years.

It started back in 2014 when someone who lives near her posted a photo to social media of a trail camera image of a mountain lion and claimed the photo was captured near where Erin lives, which is the Flint Hill area (off Highway 101 near Aragon). Well Erin took the post as gospel, got scared and immediately re-posted it, telling everyone this mountain lion was spotted near her home.

Immediately her family members and friends (particularly the men in her family) started giving her grief about it.

They all commented on the post and ridiculed her for not knowing there was no way that photo was taken here. They said she should know better than to be so gullible and even cited things such as the shrubbery in the background of the photo or the bark on the trees as indication that the photo wasn’t taken locally.

Let me tell y’all, Erin has absolutely no clue what the bark of a pine tree looks like as opposed to an oak tree or a birch or any other. She really did think the photo was captured near her house.

Come to find out, it was NOT taken locally and all her detractors had a hearty laugh at her expense.

Well as a joke, Erin got a photo of a dead mountain lion off the Internet and posted it jokingly saying that she didn’t have to worry about the big cat because she hit it with her car.

That got her friends and family all riled up again and they have been ridiculing her incessantly ever since. They post to her facebook page constantly with outlandish tales and photos just to remind her of her initial shame. One person named Mike even posted a photo of someone’s pet cat up close to the camera and joked that Erin was right all along, that this “trail cam footage” shows a dangerous feline in the area and she needed to be careful. I have to admit that was pretty funny. Erin did not.

However, since the initial post and the uproar about it, Erin has been getting messages from people all over the county who CLAIM that they too have seen a big cat in the area and Erin isn’t crazy to be concerned.

But the problem is, these people won’t go public with their sightings for fear that they too will be ridiculed.

Someone told Erin that they’ve seen a mountain lion at Berry College. A gentleman said his wife was walking their dog in Lindale and saw a mountain lion. Now I don’t know about Lindale but I could believe there might be a mountain lion on Berry land.

And just last week, two people sent Erin screen shots of where someone claimed to have seen a mountain lion up on Mount Alto. She tends to believe this one because the original poster is a hunter and should be able to distinguish a mountain lion from other animals.

Anyhow, the thing is that Erin is not an idiot. She knows that mountain lions may not be indigenous to this area but she also knows that there are other ways a large, predatory cat could have come into this area. Who knows. Someone could have had an exotic pet and released it or it escaped. Exotic animals have been known to escape from roadside zoos or carnivals and end up in places you’d never thought they’d be.

All Erin wants is some redemption. But it’s hard to come by.

She has an uncle that swears up and down that he saw a large black panther on his property but after getting so much ridicule for it, he says he’s learned his lesson and won’t talk about it anymore.

And even here at the newspaper a couple years ago we received SEVERAL different reports of a large predatory cat in Maplewood East. Nothing ever came of the reports but it’s interesting to note that several people reported the same thing.

So on Erin’s behalf, I’m asking that if you have seen or heard of any big cats or even bears in the area, don’t be afraid to tell your story. It might be some redemption for Erin who’s just dying to say “I told you so” to the men in her family who — to this day — still give her a hard time about her elusive mountain lion.

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune.