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AIDS Rumor Stings Small-Town Florist : Health: Business is off 80% and the man is being shunned and threatened, despite publicly posting his clean bill of health.

From Associated Press

A rural florist says rumors that he has AIDS are driving him out of business, and he’s even posted a clean bill of health in his shop to convince those who have shunned him, threatened him and trashed his van.

On Monday, West Virginia’s attorney general stepped in on Bill Grealis’ behalf.

“We will have some investigators up and down this hollow until we are satisfied that this nonsense is going to stop or until we can find out who’s doing it,” Roger Tompkins said. “When we do, we’ll prosecute them.”

Grealis, 41, said he doesn’t have AIDS and has medical tests to prove it: Results are taped to a showcase in his small flower shop in Campbells Creek, a mining hollow of about 350 outside the capital of Charleston.

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Rumors that he has AIDS began in December after he was hospitalized for prostate problems and lost more than 50 pounds. Since then, he said, he has been the target of threats, and business is off 80% at Christy’s Floral.

“There are a lot of mean boys here in Campbells Creek,” said Robert Elliot, a local resident. “They’re rowdy. They get into a lot of stuff. I’ve seen a lot of things happen here in Campbells Creek that ordinarily shouldn’t happen.”

Three tires on Grealis’ van were slashed last week and its windshield was smashed. “AIDS” and “fag” were scrawled in black paint on the truck’s side.

A scribbled message on a paper bag left on the shop’s door said: “If you don’t get out now, you may wind up in the hospital or in the funeral home.”

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“I even had a woman last week that opened my front door and threw her check inside and got in her car and drove off and wouldn’t even come inside,” Grealis said.

A friend, Joyce Lawrence, 41, said few people have been willing to help. “I knew he didn’t have AIDS. Besides, you don’t get AIDS by buying a flower from somebody,” she said. “The ignorance of these people is destroying him.”

Grealis, who is separated from his wife and has a 14-year-old daughter, said he should never have been tested for AIDS, “but they worked on my mind so bad that I actually began to think there was something wrong.”

West Virginia ranks 43rd in the nation with 144 AIDS patients since 1984, 87 of whom have died.

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