News, Not Fraud

GoFundMe as the New Obituary: Is This How We Grieve Now?

Miller girls Gofundme

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.



  1. Don’t be a jerk. At least allow the family to grieve before callously questioning their ethics. As friends, family, and donors, we’re well aware insurance may cover some things and may not cover other things. Any person with half a brain already knows this. It’s then up to the donors to decide whether they want to help the family or not. Implying it’s somehow unethical to provide a means for people to help the family that want to help, simply because they may have other additional sources of help is despicable, IMO. It’s the moral equivalence of saying we should never help a homeless person because there may be some applicable welfare programs available. I find such thinking quite a bit more morally questionable than simply providing the modern avenue for the community to help a hard-hit family.

    Full disclosure: I traveled with Steve’s brother for 2-3 weeks and know him from that trip. I have not donated, but am considering it.

    • gofraudme

      While I understand your point and will overlook your name calling, your comment made me realize there is another potential issue here. Whenever someone asks for money — whether or not the need is legitimate, that’s not the issue here — it opens up the asker or beneficiary to scrutiny. Suddenly a private matter is EVERYONE’S business. I’m not saying that’s right, I’m just saying that’s how it is.

      I’m not trying to be a jerk, it’s just my job to ask questions that others aren’t asking. When someone’s business is out there for all the internet to see, that can happen ya know? And discussing these things as we do makes it so the people who really need these platforms can use them, and donors can give in confidence. As it stands now, people can hardly tell head from tail and never know how legit a campaign is.

      I hope you understand what I’m trying to say here. Trust me, if I really wanted to be a jerk, you wouldn’t be calling me one.

  2. I actually think you have a valid point. Especially since people these days want the free buck, and don’t seem to be ashamed to prey on others to get it. I like the gofundme accounts and think they are a good way to help people who have something unexpected happen and have no where else to turn. Like a double edged sword I guess….

  3. Kat

    I would be more interested in hearing your suggestions for different avenues of showing compassion. Posting an article such as this as quickly as the Gofund me page was established is essentially the same knee-jerk reaction. Everyone digests emotions differently and we are not allowed to tell someone how to grieve. My guess is that the man who started the page had no idea what to say to the family or how he could possibly improve an unfathomable situation. I support the idea of questioning the status quo, but without suggestions for improvement it’s hard not to sound heartless.

    • gofraudme

      Are you seriously asking me how to grieve for people without putting up a GoFundMe page? I can’t possibly answer that.

      I recall when my mother died, flowers were nice. Also donations to her alma mater to assist young future nurses like she once was with tuition fees. I mean, that’s a start.

      The question I asked — which I still feel is reasonable — is why is GoFundMe the new obituary? Money doesn’t solve everything, nor does it bring the dead back to life. We as human beings have been losing loved ones since the dawn of time, so how did we do it before GoFundMe? I am not heartless for asking that, but thanks for implying so anyway!

  4. wendyb

    I agree with you, gofraudme. I am old school and am responsible for my own loved one’s funeral arrangements. It is bizarre what is happening with social media and how free everyone is with their personal details. Thank u for stating your views. I had not thought about the sources of help that are normally available, such as car insurance, life insurance, etc. This situation was tragic and the family will be getting my prayers and thoughts.

    • yeah right

      I know this may be hard to believe if your only experience with the Internet is social media and YouTube, but it started out as a text-based medium that people used to communicate with one another. As such, a significant percentage of the people it has attracted as users have been writers, and that is still true today.

      Writers share. It’s what we do. If that’s not your cuppa, I don’t know why you insist on hanging out in a space where writers write and share their experiences, since clearly that causes you so much distress.

      And kindly keep in mind that other people don’t share your values even when we’re not comparing writers and non-writers. It has ever been thus and always will be. Cheers.

  5. JessieJ

    In cases of sudden death there are immediate expenses that cannot wait for insurance to come through. In this case, there is the need for a group-funeral for 5 people. Five coffins. Five burial plots. Services. And so on. There are family members from out of state that NEED to travel and have a place to stay while they make funeral arrangements, sort through personal effects and locate documents, and care for the child in the hospital. Motel rooms and meals don’t wait for insurance to come through. Not everyone uses credit cards, not everyone has adequate savings or cash on hand. I know when my sister was killed in a car accident almost 14 years ago it took MONTHS for the car insurance company to settle. Meanwhile, we had to buy a burial plot and plan a funeral, family members had to travel from other states. My brother and I both had to fly in from several states away and get a rental car. My parents had a limited income and no savings, I had no income. Friends got together and built a coffin, my dad transported my sister’s body from the funeral home where she was taken after the accident and embalmed, and my mom and I dressed her and prepared her for burial. We printed up our own memorials to hand out and oversaw the service ourselves. All that because we couldn’t have afforded it otherwise. A friend picked up the airline tickets for my brother and me, because we both lacked the funds. People donated money and a lot of that went to organizations that she supported and belonged to. We didn’t have a chance to seek out financial help because other people took care of it before we could think that far ahead, as happened in the Miller case. I DO think that in many cases people are too quick to jump to crowd funding to meet a perceived need, but in other cases it’s the modern version of a spaghetti supper and bake sale. A way for people who care and have the desire to help and meet needs. I have only contributed to two GoFundMe’s, the Millers’ and one other set up for a cancer patient I knew who’s mom had to quit her job to provide care. There are those who abuse it, so I’m selective. In highly publicized cases there are going to be those fake accounts set up within days in order to scam, so someone moving fast and getting the REAL account set up provides a little bit of protection there. Also, it gives extended family a means of doing SOMETHING when they feel so helpless. If they can get the ball rolling on meeting the immediate financial needs for burial and get a start on the medical needs that’s one less thing the immediate family needs to worry about in the midst of their grief. Nothing is worse than grieving the sudden loss of an entire family, reducing added burdens is a real help. I don’t think GoFundMe is the new obituary, I think it’s the modern means of people coming together to meet a NEED in a time when they are otherwise unable to help. It’s a part of the modern world. Once upon a time families paid for loved ones funerals themselves, and in recent years many have had to go into significant debt in order to do so. Funerals didn’t always run upwards of several thousand dollars, but they do now. My sister’s headstone wasn’t ordered and set for several months, we had to wait for the insurance to come in before we could give her a proper marker. My dad would have been the same if not for the military providing his. Death costs a lot, and they get away with it because it’s unavoidable, few people are willing to settle for a cremation and cheap box on a shelf with no service. Even fewer have the emotional gumption to handle arrangements themselves, or even know that’s an option.

    • gofraudme

      Thanks for this well thought out and caring response, totally makes sense. I think it’s important for donors to be able to give to causes that matter to them, for whatever reason. I hope it didn’t come across as though I was shaming donors, it’s great that people want to help.

    • Tammy B

      Funny you bring up people needing to be at the funeral from out of state. When my dad died we got the donations from local churches. I flew down there. We had to send the airline the name and phone number of the funeral home. So they could confirm it. Not every family member can come to the funeral. That’s a fact. If the close family members want a GoFundMe to go up after a day or two, that would be more appropriate.

    • robin farmer

      Thank you Jessica…….

  6. Joy Payette

    Maybe too soon for a gofundme campaign.
    DEFINITELY too soon for the article-writer to be criticizing the family!
    I read that the family is expecting 300 relatives to be in town. They and people all over Colorado have probably all been asking how they can help. A quick gofundme seems the easiest way for family to handle the “help” question when they are already burdened with grief.

    • Kathleen

      To be honest, I don’t see where the writer criticized the family. In fact, I’ve probably seen 5 gofundme campaigns in the last week that are very similar to this one and have briefly thought about some of these same questions. Today I saw one put up by the mom of a 22 year old who died suddenly from a blood clot. He passed away yesterday and to be honest, my first thought was that I didn’t think I would be looking to put up a fundraiser the day after my child suddenly passed away. It was an odd thing in my mind for someone to think of so soon after such a shock only really because it wouldn’t have been something that would have crossed my mind. This article has certainly made me think more about the issue. I guess I would ask how people handled these issue before things like gofundme existed. Because people did handle them before. And I have certainly offered to help in whatever way I can when a family or friend has needed something in a time like this. I don’t think I would want to be asking for money from strangers on Facebook though. Not my thing. But to another point, you don’t have to donate. So I guess I have no issue with them. Just something I wouldn’t do.

  7. Linda Miller

    It is sad that you have such a cynical view of this tragic event that left a young girl an orphan . Though she has many family members she can be with . It will in no wise fill the void left of her parents or siblings passing.

    As others have stated the cost of 5 coffins , gravesites , lots of family members and extended family from other states converging together to mourn , plans and descions that need to be made , bills that need to be paid which cannot wait till all the red tape has gone through,with insurance , settlements with Amtrak won’t happen overnight,. This is the most practical way of raising money in our modern day culture and in situations like this , most people want to help in whatever capacity they can and GoFundMe provides an avenue to help.

    Granted there are some questionable GoFundMe pages set up . I agree….But absolutely not in this situation .

    As an extended family member of Stephen , I must say some of the comments you wrote in your article are crass and very rude. I would appreciate if you would edit and reword some of your phrases in a nicer manner.

    • Tammy B

      If you don’t like the way it was worded then online is not a place for you.

    • gofraudme

      I’d be happy to send you an invoice for my freelance editing rate if you believe I should revise anything I said in this post for your sake.

      I was very careful in my choice of words and at no time did I attack this family. For you to suggest otherwise is pretty wild but unlike you, I’m equipped to handle people on the Internet saying things I don’t like.

    • Kathleen

      I guess I have an issue with your first paragraph. Is money going to help this child grieve the loss of her family throughout her life? I don’t think it will.

      I don’t have an issue with someone putting one up but I don’t think it’s something I would do. Just a preference not to have my business out there. In the past, family and friends have always helped each other out and it seems odd to me to ask strangers to help. But that’s me.

      I did just look at the fundraiser and there is one thing that I don’t understand with many of these. There was a goal of $50,000 and I now see it has raised over $75,000. I would ask why it’s still active if the family needed $50,000 to cover expenses. I will tell you that is one thing that makes me question these fundraisers.

  8. Sadie

    THEY stopped on a damn train track. I will not be politically correct that was just stupid and cost a whole family their death. And now you plan to sue Amtrak for their stupidity? You are what is wrong with this damn country! Take accountability for your damn actions and don’t blame others for your own idiotic mistakes. And all your stupid comments did was make her repost the article on GoFundMe’s Facebook and after reading the comments you deserved to be mocked even more then you already have. Idiots.

    • Rosie Irvine

      they did not stop on the track. If you read the news article, it states as much. Such sympathy for a grieving family thats been picked on…

      • gofraudme

        So the train jumped off the track to hit their minivan? That is nearly here nor there, not sure why you are bringing it up.

        • Rosie Irvine

          Not sure why I brought it up?? Maybe read the comment I was replying to… *shakes head* Also do you know something that the press release or family don’t? Because it sure as hell does not state they stopped on the tracks but states the car was still moving!

          • gofraudme

            I read another article that said their minivan failed to yield to the train. I’d have to look it up.

      • Jane Doe

        As a person thay was ON THE TRAIN and a part of the first reponders, i would like to point out that though this was such a tragic event, it is not Amtraks fault. Steve slowed down, saw the train coming (made eye contact with the engineer) and sped through the track as to avoid waiting for it to pass. (A whole 52 seconds)

        Dont trust press releases, I was there.

  9. Jack

    Yep, your posting of emails back and forth with the person who was explaining about the cost of the funeral, et cetera was incredibly ghoulish, Donald Trump-like bullying behavior.

    If relatives need some funding to cover funeral costs on what has to be the worst possible time in their life emotionally, for you to toy with them and then post your “witty” reply to their heartfelt email on Facebook is just…. Words fail me.

    You are better than that; demonstrate it.

  10. Rosie Irvine

    Disgusting to pick on a family who have just recently lost (26th June and you posted this article ONE DAY LATER) so many in one go in a tragic accident. And then to post this on a facebook page (now removed) to mock one of the extended family members and their comment?? The author is beyond vile and needs to be replaced asap. This article is not even about fraud but a genuine reason why the go fund me was set up yet you have written about them like they are begging and just wanting money. At least pick on someone who has actually created a fake go fund me page and not this poor family. Bills do have to be paid upfront and its not likely to be cheap for a 5 person funeral is it. This is not about not liking how this article is written, it is about the fact this author has picked on a family to put them down when they have JUST lost 5 members of their family in one go! A young girl has lost all her closest family. And the rest are left to pick up the devastating pieces. She is now an orphan. This article is devoid of all sensitivity and should be removed. It is one thing to write an article but to pick on the deaths of others the DAY AFTER? Just wrong no matter which way you try to spin it. You have made an extremely desperately horrific time for a family just that much worse with this. As you have said author, you have lost a loved one so I am wondering why you thought this would be appropriate?

    • Jez

      I just reread the article and would like to point out that they I no way “picked on the family.” The author brought up for discussion, the use of gofundme as an immediate communication device regarding the death of a family member and our reaction to this as a method of grieving or helping or respect or ??? If you read some of the articles on this site, you will find the language here rather tame and pretty respectful. We become better and more informed by questioning especially questioning something that seems to be a new cultural norm.

      • Kathleen

        Agree, Jez. The article doesn’t pick on the family at all. It seems to me it was meant to start a discussion about the general issue of fundraisers around people dying. It became something else in these comments.

        • Jack

          Yes, but when Adrienne Gonzalez posted the whole thing to Facebook, it became a bullying and gruesome “let me post this thing about these ‘bad’ people asking for money so I look cool”–it’s the absolute worst choice one could make when they learn of the death of many children: shoving grieving relatives down in the worst time of their lives in an attempt to garner Internet cred for oneself.
          Truly disgusting behavior.

          Honestly, this is a “stop what you are doing, shut down your site, and seek therapy” red-flag moment.

  11. B Miller

    I believe your question was…. “why are we so quick to put up GoFundMe pages after accidents like this?
    The answer is really very simple.. It’s called compassion. Friends, family, etc want to be able to help out in some way or other especially if they can’t be there to help out in a physical sense. It’s simply the fact that the “giver” is hurting for the person that is suffering and they want to be able to help out in some small way or other & the gofundme account is giving them the means to do so. Also , if it happens that all the debts are covered in some other way, shape or form (for example by insurance or etc) then the giver simply sees this as even more of a blessing to be given to the person that is has already suffered so much.

  12. Valerie Evans

    Don’t even get me going on the GO FUND ME.
    Why is the whole world responsible for everyone else?
    How much is in your own kids ‘ college fund? Think of that before you are sympathetic for someone else. Or do you think you should set up a Go Fund Me for that?

  13. Lori L. S.

    WTF are you people talking about? Blame for the accident? OMG, there’s your answer……… try to stay focused on the topic people.

    Don’t even get ME going on the GO FUND ME. I’ve been lied to and given money and it was not a legitimate need for children, it was lying, theft, robbery, fraud………… So, I don’t give unless it’s money that I don’t need and can live with it going to a crackhead if that is who has created the page. Which means, I’m done with GO FUND ME. I saw one page where a 10,000 funeral brought in over 30,000 here, locally. REALLY? ARE YOU SHITTING ME?

    What? Is that what sympathy, empathy, condolences, means now? Cold, hard, cash?

    I was raised to earn, have 3 savings :
    one for fun/goal
    one for retirement (that was never touched
    one with 6 mths rent and regular recurring bills if I lost my job or could not work (which was never to be touched.)

    So, I got a 2nd and yes, 3rd, job until I filled those goals. Then, I lived and worked and paid medical insurance, life insurance, renters insurance and WHAT – A BURIAL POLICY???? WOW. As a matter of fact, I have two to cover all of the expenses. Imagine that – being responsible. So, I have it all covered, thank you.
    (And for those of you who will no doubt say, jobs are so hard to find and blah blah blah, and waaaaaaa, waaaaaa. I waited tables, tended bar, asnwered phones. I wasn’t and am not rich, AND I’ve taken care of myself WITHOUT gofundme, foodstamps, welfare, baby checks, workers comp, or any other check that can be received in the mai

    Need money for college? Work for it or don’t go. Work to send your kids or they don’t go. They can work for it and then they can go.

    The world is not responsible for every life issue that arises in someone else’s life. Each should take care of himself and his family and that would be that.

    That’s life.


    Sick of the whole thing. SOMEBODY COME FUND ME.

    Right, never gonna happen —— I’ve funded myself.

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