SKOWHEGAN — The victims of a Nov. 2 fire in Skowhegan that destroyed their home and killed their dog have filed a police report saying someone opened a GoFundMe account to help them but then kept the money.

Danette Dalton and Michael Smith, both 37, and three children, ages 11, 15 and 16, were left homeless by the fire, which consumed their home on Cote Street in Skowhegan. Their dog, Pickles, succumbed to the smoke and was carried out by a firefighter and covered with a white sheet.

Days later, another Skowhegan couple reportedly opened a fundraising account for them, then withdrew the money.

Dalton said there was $275 in the account when the money was taken. They never saw a penny of it, she said.

“Neighbors down the road set up a GoFundMe page for us without us knowing and told us a couple days later,” Dalton said Friday. “People were donating to it, and just before Thanksgiving we asked for the user name and password to it so we could add our bank account information, and they said somebody logged in and took the money out already.”

Dalton said she contacted people at GoFundMe and they confirmed for her that the account had been emptied by the people who opened it.

A theft complaint was filed with Skowhegan police Officer Tim Williams, according to police Chief Donald Bolduc. Williams was off duty Friday and Bolduc said he could not release a copy of the police report because it is still an open case. Dalton said she filed the report Dec. 1 and has not yet heard back from police.

Meanwhile, Bobby Whithorne, at GoFundMe customer service offices in Redwood City, California, said by phone Friday that the company is in touch with Dalton and Smith, who also filed a fraud complaint with them. He said the social fundraising platform has agreed to pay them the money but would not discuss the circumstances of how the money was missing in the first place.

“We’ll be sure they receive the funds raised,” Whithorne said. “I can confirm that they’ll receive the money raised on their behalf.”

A statement later in the day was issued by a GoFundMe spokesperson saying the company is working with police and stands behind its promise of protection.

“Our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means donors and beneficiaries are fully protected,” the statement reads. “It’s also important to remember that misuse occurs in less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all campaigns. We are in touch with Mike and Danette and are working to confirm details of the case with local law enforcement. Once this process is completed, we will make a donation to the family to ensure they receive the money raised on their behalf.”

Dozens of firefighters, trucks and equipment from six area towns went to the scene just after 11 a.m. Nov. 2 at the corner of Blair and Cote streets on the otherwise quiet east side of North Avenue.

No one was home when the fire was reported and no one was injured. Dalton and Smith owned the home but were not insured, Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said. Flames were showing when the first crews arrived at the single-family, two-story home.

Howard said the fire started in the wall around a wood stove in the living room. He said there was no clearance between the wood of the house frame and the chimney. He said wood exposure to the direct heat of the chimney probably had been going on for years.

Dalton, who works at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, said another GoFundMe campaign was launched by her daughter and still is accepting donations. There also will be a fundraising dinner and auction from 4 to 6 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Elks Lodge in Skowhegan.

She said the family has been staying nearby with Smith’s grandfather. Their house had to be demolished. Smith, who works at Bath Iron Works, could not be reached for comment Friday.

“In the spring, when the ground has thawed, Michael plans on rebuilding right there,” Dalton said. “It’s unfortunate it happened so soon around the holidays, but I’m a firm believer that unfortunate things happen for a reason and all we can do is build up from this point and see where life takes us. This community has been absolutely amazing.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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