Staff writer Janel Davis contributed to this article.
The story of a homeless young man bicycling 6 hours to register at a Georgia college inspired the nation, raising $184,000 in a GoFundMe account for his education.
So why was Fred Barley shunning the public Friday?
Turns out, after he created a national sensation, including stories in People and a multitude of other news sites, the 19-year-old heard some nasty rumors going around town about him in Barnesville, about an hour’s drive south from Atlanta.
Reading some of those rumors on a local Facebook discussion page, Barley’s heart sank, said Debbie Adamson, who heard his story and offered him a job at her restaurant in town, DBs Pizzeria. She spoke to him Friday morning, and took up his side.
“He called me crying like crazy,” Adamson said. People were saying “he was just some kid who conned everybody and ran.”
That apparently is not the case. A spokeswoman for the Barnesville police said officials have heard the rumors and chalked them up to gossip. Gordon State College in Barnesville, Barley's destination on his marathon ride from Conyers, acknowledged that he is registered for the fall semester.
Moreover, officials at GoFundMe told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there appears to be no impropriety with the account. They have been in contact with the woman who founded it, and say she is taking pains to make sure the money goes to Barley and his education, said spokesman Bobby Whithorne.
The local woman who organized the campaign, Casey Blaney, is creating a separate trust for Barley, and the GoFundMe money will be released directly into that trust, Whithorne said.
“The campaign organizer has been very transparent with the donors,” he said.
Blaney’s lawyer, Wright Gammon, told the AJC the fundraiser was shut down because of the “sheer size of the amount of giving.”
"She felt that continuing to accept funds would be taking advantage of the public," Gammon said.
Blaney, feeling the pressure of local gossip, posted a response Friday on Facebook.
“All of the funds are going into an educational trust,” she wrote. “I am a wife and a mother and cannot continue to handle the multitude of calls, texts, social media requests and comments. The trust will be in place as soon as the attorney completes the paperwork. I will refer everyone to the trustee upon the completion of the trust.”
It’s hard to overstate the emotional impact that Barley’s story had on people. After bicycling to the college, he was found by two police officers sleeping in a tent among some bushes on the college campus. They heard his story and instead of giving him a ticket, they helped him obtain lodging at a local motel.
“I am black and he didn’t care what color I was,” Barley told Channel 2 Action News. “He just helped me, and that meant a lot.”
That’s when help started pouring in. A wife of one of the police officers posted his story on a community Facebook page, and hundreds of people stepped up to help. Blaney was among them. She created the GoFundMe page and a Facebook page called Success For Fred.
Blaney also heard some rumors about her own intentions with the money.
The gossip and bickering heated up on local social media sites to the degree that the comments were shut down on two Facebook pages.
“I’ve known Miss Blaney and she’s such a nice lady,” Gammon said. “Her husband is in the military, about to do his last two years of service before he retires.”
GoFundMe started up about six years ago and has raised some $2 billion for causes. Less than 1 percent of the campaigns have proved to be fraudulent, said Whithorne, the spokesman.
He said the company has multiple layers of security to ensure the legitimacy of accounts. The company has a special unit focusing on fraud.
If someone has a suspicion or complaint about a campaign, they can get general answers and contact the company through the website https://www.gofundme.com/contact.
He recommended that donors reach out to the person organizing the campaign, which can be done through the individual campaign page online.
Moreover, he said that if a campaign organizer raises money under false pretenses, the organizer can be prosecuted for fraud by law enforcement.
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