It all began Sept. 7, when police in Fort Collins, Colo., received a call about an injured child.
They arrived to find the girl’s mother, Alexia Coria, distraught. According to Coria, while she was in the bathroom, RaeLynn attempted to climb up to the seat of her high chair but fell off. The infant was bleeding from her mouth. When Coria picked her up, she became “dangly,” arms hanging limply at her sides.
Coria said she repeatedly placed the infant in water for about 30 to 45 minutes in an attempt to keep her awake. According to her boyfriend Juan Canales-Hernandez, Coria texted him to come over. The child was rushed to the hospital.
The story seemed like a heartbreaking accident, one that could happen to any mother.
Until the next day, when Coria changed her story, telling police that she was picking up another of her children from school, when Canales-Hernandez called to say the child was injured.
That change in story led Canales-Hernandez to admit he had been tossing the infant playfully in the air, when she hit her head. He placed RaeLynn in a high chair, but the child wasn’t secure, which lead Canales-Herandez to grow “frustrated,” according to an affidavit.
So he took another chair and smashed it into RaeLynn, knocking her to the ground.
He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death and attempt to influence a public servant. Canales-Hernandez is being held in the Larimer County Jail without bond.
At the time Canales-Hernandez was left with the child, he was on parole for a child abuse conviction for beating a previous girlfriend’s son. According to The Washington Post’s Kristine Guerra:
In the 2013 case, the boy was found with more than 100 bruises and several bite marks on his body, according to an affidavit. His liver was bruised and his pancreas was torn in half. Canales-Hernandez told detectives at the time that he and the boy were wrestling and rough-playing, and that he didn’t hurt him intentionally.
The GoFundMe campaign for Coria was set up by her friend Olivia Ayotte. Its description, pulled from a cached version of the page, read:
RaeLynn Martinez is the 11 month old daughter of Alexa Coria and Isaac Martinez. Tragedy hit this family this week and we are asking for funds to help out Alexa and her family in their time of need. Raelynn was the youngest of 3 babies and will be missed dearly.
As a close friend and neighbor of Alexa and her family we are asking for help with funeral costs. All donations will go directly to Alexa Coria herself and is aware this campaign is set up. We thank you for all of your support and donations it is one less stress for their family at this time.
Donors immediately starting giving.
“Stay strong mama,” wrote Lawrinda Yeboah, who gave $25. “You’re angel will forever be in your heart. God bless you and the others and wish you safe delivery.”
“Alexa, you and your family are in my thoughts,” wrote Rebekah Praamsma, who also donated $25. “The heartache of losing a baby is something no one truly understand unless they’ve been there. I have and am SO sorry that you have to go through this. Sending you love and light during this difficult time.”
Unfortunately, the act of creating false pages linked to actual tragedies, exploiting real-time pain for financial benefit, has become the current offense du jour of the digital age. When a second campaign was created — this one on behalf of RaeLynn’s biological father, Isaac Martinez, which has raised $3,850 as of early Friday — people became suspicious.
They became doubly so when Coria was arrested Thursday and charged with child abuse resulting in death, accessory to crime and attempt to influence a public servant. (It is unclear whether she has entered a plea or has retained a lawyer. She has been released on bond.)
Reportedly, she and Canales-Hernandez created the first story about how the toddler had been injured in an attempt to keep Canales-Hernandez from serving prison time, according to the Coloradoan.
GoFundMe told the Coloradoan that “In this case, it was removed for raising money for the defense or support of anyone alleged to be involved in criminal activity.”
Coria did not receive any of the $1,320 before being arrested.
GoFundMe has previously stressed that “less than one tenth of one percent of all GoFundMe campaigns are fraudulent. … We take fraud very seriously and have multiple layers of protection in place to protect donors and campaign organizers. In fact, in order to protect donors, if a campaign is flagged as fraudulent, the funds cannot be withdrawn until the issue is resolved.”
That may be, but there are enough questionable requests for donations to have prompted the creation of GoFraudMe, a website that monitors GoFundMe for fraudulent campaigns. According to the site, of the $2 billion that had been donated through GoFundMe as of February 2016, “$340 million was raised for ‘funeral’ fundraisers, making up approximately 17% of all fundraising activity on the site.” The most popular category, though, is medical.
Many of the faux campaigns fall into these categories. An Oklahoma woman raised $20,000 on the site by pretending her 4-year-old had cancer. In Pennsylvania, one or more individuals set up fake campaigns claiming to raise money for Luke Blanock, an actual teen with cancer. A beauty queen in Pennsylvania faked her own cancer, raising about $30,000 in the process.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi even investigated some of the more than 100 GoFundMe campaigns set up after the recent mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando to solicit donations for the victims.
In the case of the GoFundMe campaign set up for Coria, the organization said that all the money has been refunded to donors.