Eight-year-old Emahleeah Frost was 7 when she was shot in a drive-by shooting in the South End of Waterville in February. The family received $14,100 from a GoFundMe collection. Because of that income, their food stamps were taken away in April and this month, Supplemental Security Income, according to her parents. Comtributed photo

The family of a little girl injured in a drive-by shooting in Waterville say because they received $14,100 from a GoFundMe effort after the incident, first their food stamps were taken away and then their Supplemental Security Income.

Emahleeah Frost was 7 on Feb. 28 when she was in her bedroom on Summer Street having a snack after school and was shot, causing a bullet to lodge between two vertebra in her back and landing her in a Portland hospital for nearly a week. Emahleeah, now 8 and a third-grader at George J. Mitchell School, has recovered but feels pain in her chest when she exerts herself, according to her mother, Davina Petchonka, and father, Charles Frost Jr. The bullet remains in her back.

Petchonka started a GoFundMe effort after the shooting to help with family expenses, and after about $600 was taken out in fees, they received $14,100, the couple said.

They used the money for various expenses including staying in a hotel for several weeks after the shooting. Emahleeah and her sister, Amber, 6 at the time and now 7, were too afraid to go back to their apartment. The family also spent the money on food from restaurants, as they had no stove in the hotel, and bought clothing, gasoline and other needs, they said.

In April, their food stamps valued at about $160 a month were taken away and this month, Supplemental Security Income benefits were halted for Petchonka and her son, who each receive $783 a month. Petchonka said she receives SSI for back nerve problems that cause pain in her legs, as well as anxiety and depression, and her son, 16, gets it for learning and other disabilities.

“It’s not right that something like this happens to our daughter and people are generous enough to donate to help us in our time of need and she gets penalized for it,” Charles Frost Jr. said Monday in a phone interview.

He gets $790 monthly in disability income for various issues including bipolar disorder and partial blindness, he said. That income has not been affected by the GoFundMe, he said.

Petchonka said when she and her son did not receive their SSI checks this month, she called the local Social Security Administration office and was told she had to submit receipts for everything they purchased with the GoFundMe money to reapply for Supplemental Security Income. Petchonka said she did not keep the receipts, and the woman told her she should make a list of everything they used the money for.

“They told us to try to get an itemized list,” Charles Forst recalled. “Even still, getting it to come up to the actual amount will be difficult.”

Emahleeah Frost, 7, is seen in the hospital after she was shot inside her home on Summer Street in Waterville in February. Photo courtesy of Davina Petchonka

Petchonka said they have been staying with friends in Vassalboro since June and are struggling with the loss of income.

“You get a rung up the ladder and they take one away,” she said, breaking down. “They don’t want anyone to get ahead in life. I’m just kind of lost at the moment. All we want is a place to be in — a yard for the kids. That’s all we really want.”

Before that, they got an apartment for a short while.

“We had to leave the apartment because they upped the rent and a neighbor was cooking up meth and selling heroin and that’s not something we want to have around our children,” Charles Frost said.

Jackie Farwell, communications director for the state Department of Health and Human Services, responded Monday in an email to a voice message left for her, seeking comment about how such a GoFundMe would affect someone’s food stamps:

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is available to individuals and families who meet eligibility requirements set by the federal government,” Farwell’s email said. “Eligibility is based on income, assets, expenses and household size. We encourage anyone with questions about their eligibility to contact Maine DHHS.”

Steve Richardson, a representative of the Social Security Administration in Boston, wrote in an email in response to a voicemail left for him that his office would be “happy to reach out to the family and answer any questions they may have.”

He included information that explained that SSI, Supplemental Security Income, is a needs-based program for people with limited income and resources. The program is paid for by general tax revenues. The benefit is based on federal and state laws which take into account where a person lives, who lives with them and what income they receive.

Noted in an addition to his email was the fact that other income may affect the benefits a person receives.

Officers from the Waterville Police Department and Maine State Police search outside the apartment building at 42 Summer St. in Waterville, where Emahleeah Frost, 7, was injured Feb. 28 in a drive-by shooting. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

A man accused of being involved in the drive-by now faces a potential jury trial on an elevated aggravated assault charge for his alleged role in the Feb. 28 shooting.

Jeremiah D. Gamblin, 21, of China, had been expected to plead guilty to a lesser charge as part of a plea agreement, but changed his mind after the video issues arose during his morning appearance. On Sept. 9 Gamblin was brought from Kennebec County jail to the Capital Judicial Center, where he withdrew his plea and rejected the deal. If convicted in a jury trial, he now faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.

State prosecutors had agreed that Gamblin appeared to be an accomplice of Gavin Tyler Loabe, 19, of Mercer, in the shooting. The pair were indicted in July, both on charges of elevated aggravated assault, and Gamblin also on a charge of assault.

Details that emerged in court in March suggested they were out looking for a person identified only as “Mr. Vigue,” and thought he lived in the apartment. They reportedly were looking to hurt “Mr. Vigue” because he had allegedly propositioned Loabe’s girlfriend for sex.

Meanwhile, Emahleeah Frost is doing OK since the shooting, which required her to be in a chest cast for several weeks, according to her mother.

“She’s doing all right,” Petchonka said Monday. “I’m still trying to decide what I want to do for counseling for her. She asks questions about it. A few days ago she said, ‘Am I ever going to get this bullet out?’ I said, ‘I can’t answer that for you.’ She gets scared quickly and easily these days.”

She said Emahleeah and Amber were running around recently and the neighbors were target shooting. The girls became frightened.

“I have to tell them that they’re fine,” Petchonka said.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.