BEVERLY — The owners of a downtown Beverly restaurant have received thousands of messages of support after posting a photo of a homophobic letter they say they were sent, criticizing them for hanging a rainbow flag in recognition of Pride Month. 

The post on Bonefish Harry's Facebook page, which went up on Wednesday afternoon, had generated more than 10,000 reactions, 5,000 comments and 4,500 shares as of Thursday afternoon. 

But on Thursday, the restaurant again took to social media, this time to defend itself against suggestions by some commenters that the letter was a publicity stunt. 

Owner Henry Pariseau on Thursday did not return several requests for comment. 

The letter, purportedly signed by "Owen Donaldson," calls homosexuality "immoral" and accuses the restaurant of "virtue signaling." It's dated June 9, one day after the restaurant posted an image of the rainbow flag on its Facebook page. 

"Imagine our disappointment when we saw a rainbow flag hanging outside your restaurant," the author of the letter wrote, claiming he and his family had been regular patrons. "It means, simply, that we will not be patronizing your eating place again because you have chosen to (publicly) support activity which is immoral..." 

"My hope is that you'll give more thought to the question and take down your flag," the author wrote. "Perhaps then we will reconsider whether we and our family will again come to enjoy Bonefish Harry's as a restaurant instead of regarding it a misguided 'virtue-signaling' establishment." 

The restaurant's owners posted a comment with the photo of the letter. 

"We consider this letter an attempt to bully us to remove our flag and to slander our business," the post said. "We will not stand for this type of behavior and will never give in to these types of unaccepting bigoted people. We will always stand side by side with everyone in our community! We will continue to fly this flag and we are proud to show our support for all of our community members."

Then, after some commenters questioned the authenticity of the letter on Thursday, the restaurant created a second post Thursday afternoon. 

"Facebook world, we appreciate the outpouring of support from everyone near and far," the author of the post wrote. "We want to make sure the focus of this is on accepting everyone in our community without bias and prejudgment. We are aware that there are people questioning the validity of the letter, the author and whether our restaurant had written this letter. We have no idea who Owen is or if he really exists. We 100% did not write this letter or know who did. What we do know is that we support everyone in our community and welcome everyone in our restaurants. Now let's get back to tacos and mai tais!"

The Salem News attempted to locate a person by the name of Owen Donaldson living in Beverly or on the North Shore. But a search of public records, including the city clerk's resident lists for Beverly and several area communities, property records, available phone listings, social media, and a general search of the internet shows no one by that name living in the area.  

Gin Wallace, the executive director of Beverly Main Streets, which was tagged in the restaurant's original post on Wednesday, said the group has heard from people in the community in support of Bonefish Harry's. 

"I think this is an isolated incident," said Wallace. "I haven't seen or heard from any other business."

The question of whether or not the letter is authentic "never even crossed my mind," she said.

"I'd hate to have to question the validity of the letter," said Wallace. "That's not the point. That's not what we should be angry or unnerved about. I hope people are focusing on the right message here."

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.