Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco is turning a potentially harmful PR nightmare into a coup.

Next week, the water park plans to bring Dylan Dean, the 11-year-old boy who was allegedly bullied at a similarly named water park in Texas, to Maine for a vacation with his family.

Funtown Splashtown USA late last month became the victim of mistaken identity and received a torrent of angry phone calls, emails, tweets and Facebook posts after a television station in Texas reported that Dylan, who is autistic and has a medical condition that causes him to gain weight, was allegedly bullied by employees at Splashtown, a water park in San Antonio that has no relation to the park in Saco.

Ed Hodgdon, who is in charge of marketing for the Saco park, said the negative reaction was swift and overwhelming. National press then picked up the story. Even Ellen DeGeneres mentioned the incident on her TV talk show, “Ellen.”

Funtown Splashtown USA went into crisis management mode after the calls started pouring in and was able to quell the upsurge of negative attention by getting active on social media to explain the mix-up and set the record straight.

The park came up with a plan to fly the Deans to Maine “shortly after the dust settled,” Hodgdon said.

“We just asked, ‘What can we do?'” he said. “The family has been through a lot since this thing went viral, so we just had the idea, ‘Why can’t we fly them to Maine to visit this park?’ So that’s what we’re doing.”

The Dean family, including Dylan, two younger brothers and his mother and father, will arrive in Maine late Sunday night and spend three full days here before flying out early Thursday morning, according to Hodgdon. They’ll spend one day at Funtown Splashtown USA and the other two days on their own, Hodgdon said. The park is paying for the family’s airfare and will put them up in a Saco hotel.

This will be the family’s first trip to Maine, Hodgdon said.

The alleged bullying incident occurred on June 29 when Tracy Dean brought her family to Splashtown in San Antonio for the day, according to an article in the San Antonio Express-News.

Dylan was in the kiddie pool area and getting ready to go down a slide when some Splashtown lifeguards blew their whistles and told Dylan he couldn’t go down the slide because of his size. They then allegedly laughed and called him “fat,” according to a friend of Tracy Dean who was accompanying Dylan.

Listen to Tracy Dean’s recorded interview with the co-owner of Splashtown in San Antonio

Tracy Dean told the Texas newspaper that her son, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, was in tears and on the verge of a meltdown after the incident. She and her family left the park.

“This a major setback in Dylan’s life,” she told the San Antonio newspaper.

For its part, Splashtown in San Antonio disputes Tracy Dean’s story. In a Facebook post, the park said it was “an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“After we were made aware of the situation involving Dylan Dean, we interviewed both lifeguards separately, and found there is no corroborating evidence to support they made fun of or berated Dylan,” Splashtown’s Facebook post reads. “The one guard in charge of the Kiddie Pool area blew into his whistle and made hand gestures to advise Dylan he was too tall for this particular slide. They were concerned for his safety.”

The park apologized to Dylan and his mother “for any misunderstanding caused by our team members.” The lifeguards were reprimanded but not fired, Splashtown co-owner James Kinney told Tracy Dean in a meeting she recorded and later posted on the Internet.

Despite the apology, Tracy Dean said she did not appreciate Kinney’s response to the incident.

“They have a shovel and they are digging their grave deeper and deeper,” she told the Express-News. “As a major business in San Antonio, this is insulting. It’s all a show – it’s discrimination.”

Several weeks after the incident occurred, a family friend started a Facebook page, “Justice for Dylan Dean,” to continue to spread the story of what happened to Dylan at Splashtown.

That’s when the confusion began. Funtown Splashtown in Maine began receiving messages on the evening of July 17 from irate customers vowing never to bring their families again to the popular amusement destination, and telling the park’s employees they should be ashamed of themselves.

Tracy Dean eventually stepped in to help quell the confusion.

“I would like to reiterate that Splashtown in San Antonio has no affiliation with Funtown Splashtown,” she posted on the Saco park’s Facebook page.

She also called the Saco park later to apologize for the confusion, although the mistake had not been hers. It was that phone call which eventually led to Funtown Splashtown’s invitation to the Deans to come to Maine.

The reaction to the story that took off because of social media was immediate. People who saw the Portland Press Herald story Friday about the invitation to Maine began posting responses within hours.

“So sorry to hear about what happened to your son Dylan. Bullying is a serious issue that I wish more people would actually address,” wrote one Facebook user on the Justice for Dylan Dean page. “However I think it’s awesome that Funtown Splashtown USA is flying your entire family out to visit Maine and the park! I grew up in Southern Maine and I can tell you that Funtown Splashtown USA is AMAZING! I hope you and the rest of your family have a wonderful trip!”

Attempts to reach Tracy Dean on Friday were not successful.

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