Alex Murdaugh trial and Stephen Smith’s GoFundMe: What to know

Fundraising websites such as GoFundMe show genuine concern and optimism for individuals. Still, prospective con artists should be avoided at all costs.

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On paper, fundraising platforms such as GoFundMe seem wonderful. They raise funds for a worthy cause. Heartbreaking sorrow paragraphs give way to genuine thankfulness paragraphs. Everyone leaves better off than they were before – or at least on their way there.

That is undoubtedly true for Stephen Smith’s family.

The teen’s corpse was discovered in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015, in the middle of a road in rural South Carolina, with fatal blunt force trauma to the head and other injuries. 

Stephen Smith In A Still From 'Murdaugh Murders A Southern Scandal' (Netflix)
Stephen Smith in a still from ‘Murdaugh Murders A Southern Scandal’ (Netflix)

Originally deemed a vehicular hit-and-run homicide in 2015, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) reopened the case in June 2021 “based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh,” according to a spokeswoman at the time. Alex Murdaugh, the subject of many true crime movies, was recently sentenced to life in prison for his wife and son’s murders.

RELATED: Stephen Smith body exhumed

Stephen Smith'S Body Exhumed And Given Second Autopsy, Says Attorney
Stephen Smith’s Body Exhumed and Given Second Autopsy, Says Attorney

The GoFundMe campaign was created in early March and has so far gathered more than $127,000 to cover the costs of the private exhumation, independent autopsy, and a more in-depth inquiry.

Experts suggest that crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe enable individuals to do good in a simple but impactful manner. Still, one should be aware of possible fraudsters, as crowdfunding platforms reflect both the good and the bad in the world.

“(GoFundMe) can provide hope, real support, and a sense of empowerment to people who may not have the resources to meet a particular crisis or tragedy in their lives,” says Cecille Ahrens, a certified clinical social worker.

The good that comes through GoFundMe

Those that have never utilized GoFundMe: A description of what a campaign is for, who is running it, and what the contribution target is is usually included. You may then quickly give online and share the campaign while being public or anonymous.

“During the platform’s early stages, it was viewed as a last hope,” explains psychologist Reneé Carr. “Now, it is seen as the first action step, and one that is more effective and less confusing than working through lawyers or establishing a nonprofit.”

RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About The Alex Murdaugh Murders Story

Individually, assisting others is a cornerstone of American democracy, and hence something individuals desire to participate in. “It gives us a sense of collective responsibility and highlights what is good in us,” adds Ahrens.

It gives consumers the impression that they can personally affect change rather than donating to a large institution.

When a GoFundMe campaign fails

GoFundMe, in particular, “has a team of experts working around the clock to review fundraisers and prevent misuse,” according to a company spokeswoman.

“We’ve also put systems in place that allows anyone to report a fundraiser if they have unanswered questions or concerns, and our team will immediately investigate to verify its legitimacy,” the business says. We will not tolerate any abuse of our platform.” It also guarantees all donors a complete return in the rare event that anything goes wrong.

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Still, research a GoFundMe before giving to ensure it’s legitimate. “If you have a hunch, trust it and look into it,” Ahrens advises. If you have any concerns regarding a specific campaign, you can usually contact (GoFundMe) directly.”

According to the group, fraudulent fundraising accounts for “less than one-tenth of one percent of all fundraisers on GoFundMe.”

Carr provides some pointers on what to look for:

  • “Reading the page to see if there is specific language on what the funds are for; how the funds will be used; and who is the person collecting the funds.” 
  • “Consider whether the person collecting the funds is legitimately connected to the cause and whether there will be public reporting of how the funds are spent.” 
  • “Don’t fall for every sad story.” 

GoFundMe’s social pressure

If you scroll through your social media feeds long enough, you’ll find plenty of worthy causes to donate to – but when does that become an obligation? Is that correct? It depends on who you ask.

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“I can imagine some social pressure, especially if the cause is something you care about or you are connected to the victim(s) in some way, shape, or form,” Ahrens adds.

Consider why you want to contribute and how much you can give without feeling obligated or even resentful. “If your finances are limited on your end, see if you can find other non-monetary ways to help out,” Ahrens says. It’s also worth investigating why you feel guilty if you can’t give.

Elsewhere, It’s critical to consider what happens when the GoFundMe frenzy dies down, especially if/when it gets viral. A large-scale life-altering catastrophe might bring people together for a limited time.

RELATED: Alex Murdaugh Murder Timeline

“After the novelty of the event or news wears off, people return to their everyday lives, and acts of generosity decrease,” Carr adds. “In addition, as more and more of the same type of tragedy occurs, people are more likely to become emotionally numb to that type of tragedy.”

In that sense, GoFundMe is a terrific place to start if you want to assist someone or a cause. But only for a limited time.

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