Yesterday, Steve Miller, his wife, and four daughters were traveling to church when they were struck by an Amtrak train in Colorado. Only their 4-year-old daughter Heidi survived; she is currently in stable condition at a Denver hospital.

Before the day was over, a man named Philip Schlabach had put up a GoFundMe campaign for the family.

He writes:

Yesterday morning around 9:45, Steve Miller, his wife Christina and their 4 precious girls were on their way to church when their vehicle was struck by an Amtrack train.  Steve, Christina and their three girls (Abigail(6), Kathryn(2) and Ellianna(8mos)) went to be with their Creater and the remaining girl (Heidi(4)) was life flighted to Denver, where she is in stable condition. We are asking for your support with the funeral costs and also the hospital and Flight for Life bills and support for Heidi.  Your prayers are also greatly appreciated!

This page was set up by cousins of Christina that live here in Trinidad, 100% of the money given will go to the family to distribute as they see fit, I.e. funeral arrangements, etc.

As of the publication of this post, the page has raised $27,231 of a $50k goal.

Now, we want to make it clear: we don’t have any reason to believe this campaign is fraudulent. But we’re using it as an example to discuss the ethics of immediately turning to GoFundMe after a tragedy. There is no doubt, this was a tragedy.

KOAA in Colorado Springs reports:

The collision occurred along the Amtrak Southwest Chief line about three miles north of Trinidad at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday morning. The train, carrying 286 passengers, was traveling westbound when it crashed into the vehicle at Las Animas County Road 32.

No passengers aboard the train were injured, according to Amtrak officials. The train was stuck near Trinidad for several hours after the crash but is now back on the move.

The vehicle was not stopped on the tracks at the time of the crash, and drugs and alcohol are not suspected factors, according to CSP.

Obviously it’s too early in the investigation to say, but one could reasonably assume that if Amtrak is found to be liable in any way, Steve and Christina’s surviving daughter and family should expect a pay-out. It is also assumed that Steve and Christina had an auto insurance policy, which may or may not at least cover Heidi’s medical bills. As a family with four young children, it’s also possible yet not assumed that the parents had life insurance policies for this very reason — a fact that cousins of the parents are unlikely to know as that’s not really the kind of thing you talk about over Thanksgiving dinner.

All that to ask: why are we so quick to put up GoFundMe pages after accidents like this? It’s not like the hospital in which little Heidi is recovering will start sending her bills and refusing her treatments because she can’t pay. These things can wait. Money will not bring these two parents and their three children back.

My mother died suddenly just before GoFundMe was launched, so crowdfunding her funeral wasn’t even an option then. But had she passed away in the age of GoFundMe, my first thought after getting the call about her death would not be to slap up a campaign. As her heir, I gained access to her documents, assessed the situation, determined the status of her estate, informed her creditors of her death, and addressed any loose ends through probate.

I’m not saying all that to act as though I’m somehow superior to any grieving family who chooses to crowdfund in a situation like this — they certainly have the right, just as friends and family have the right to either donate or not — but to ask why we’re so quick to the trigger these days? The scene hadn’t even been cleared before a GoFundMe page went up.

Surely the person who started this campaign was trying to help make sure Heidi would be taken care of, and that — barring a life insurance policy on either parent — the deceased could be laid to rest. That’s admirable. But is it happening too fast?

I would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this. Maybe I’m just bitter. Maybe I’ve seen too many people put up fake funeral funds for dead people who can’t speak for themselves. Who knows, maybe I’m actually onto something here.