7 On Your Side: GoFundMe misery after funeral fundraising page disappears

TOMS RIVER, New Jersey (WABC) -- When a Marine, an aspiring police officer and a pair of hardworking brothers -- all in their early 20s -- lost their lives in a tragic accident last year, loved ones step up to help with the financial burden.

In the hours after the tragedy, friends turned their anguish into action with donations of $20 to $50, and raised more than $12,000 all to pay for their funerals. But when that money suddenly disappeared -- they turned to 7 On Your Side to find comfort and their cash.

"I felt like I let him down because this page was for him and his brother," Zowie Lawton said. She said she doesn't know what happened to $12,000, the money she helped raise after the horrific accident cut short the lives of her co-worker and three others.

Kevin Quispe-Prieto, 21, was driving before 3 a.m. the day after Christmas when he crashed head-on into the back of an oil tanker along the Garden State Parkway.

"I couldn't believe I was never going to see him again," Lawton said.

Kevin, his brother Jimmy and their friends Victor Lugo and Bobby Ordenana were all pronounced dead at the scene. But Lawton and her co-workers at Christian Pools in Toms Rivers took action, and set up the GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses.

"After all was said and done it was $12,000 roughly," Lawton said.

But in January when she tried to transfer the money raised from the online site to a bank account, she says the page and the money disappeared.

"What's going on now is borderline fraud because it's not in the account it was set up to go into," Lawton said.

Lawton and her manager panicked after a month passed and no one heard a peep from GoFundMe.

Then she says the fundraising page vanished off the site completely.

"(It's) too bad they (GoFundMe) only have a contact form," Lawton said. "Their phone number, I've tried, it doesn't go through."

Distraught, they were about to go to the police, when her friend made another suggestion.

"7 On Your Side, 100 percent. I think they would help us more than a police report," said Courtney Michaels, a friend of one of the victims.

7 On Your Side reached out to GoFundMe and just 24 hours later, the donation campaign page reappeared along with all the money.

"All of it mattered, every single dollar, every single penny," Lawton said. She was finally able to transfer the funds raised to the rightful beneficiary, the mother who lost two sons that night.

"Thank you, I don't what I would do without you guys," Lawton said.

A GoFundMe rep said funds are typically backed by a guarantee. And in this case, all the funds were always safe.

GoFundMe said the problem here was they never got a beneficiary's name -- required when a campaign is raising money for someone else.

The rep said they continuously asked for a beneficiary but never got one. But Lawton said she never got any emails from GoFundMe asking for a beneficiary.

GoFundMe released the following statement:

It's important to understand what happens when a campaign is created on behalf of another individual. When money is raised for another individual, funds are collected by our payment processors, held, and then released only to the person named as the beneficiary.

In this case, all funds are safe and we are working directly with the campaign organizer to add the beneficiary to the campaign. Once that happens, the funds will be transferred directly to the beneficiary.

Additionally, the entire GoFundMe platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee which means we guarantee all funds will get to the right place. You can learn more on that and our host of safety measures here.

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