FLORA, Ind. - A group of people who hoped to add to the Flora fire reward fund say they feel cheated after a man reportedly scammed them out of money. Now, the matter is being handled by the Indiana State Police Organized Crime and Corruption Unit.
Misty Bluemke lives in Flora and said she felt compelled to take action after learning the fire that killed four young girls was intentionally set.
"I was heartbroken and my son was heartbroken when we learned the news," Bluemke said.
She struck up online friendships with others who were trying to bring more attention to the case, including one man who lives out of the state. According to Bluemke, the group communicated frequently and the man from out of state eventually set up a YouCaring page. Facebook posts show the man asked people to donate money that would go to the official Flora fire reward.
"He would say 'donate to the reward fund already' - that was his focus," Bluemke said. "You could tell he kept putting it out there. He sent me a couple money requests. He mentioned it to me several times. He was pretty adamant on getting a donation from me."
Bluemke ended up sending the man a $50 check. She says others donated through the YouCaring website in amounts reaching as much as $200. But, suspicion began to grow over where the money was actually going.
Angela Hope was part of the same Flora case discussion group and also frequently communicated with the man who started the YouCaring page.
"I’m asking him about the money and I'm not getting a response," Hope said. "Is the money still in the fund? He wont answer me."
She threatened to take the concerns and some evidence to Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby if she didn't get a direct answer.
"He blocked me," Hope said. "That’s when we knew."
FOX 59 reached out to a YouCaring spokesperson about the matter. The company sent this response:
"We looked into this and we confirmed that both fundraisers had been shut down for fraud at the time, and the user banned."
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which is handling the official reward fund for the case, also confirmed the man in question has not sent in any donations. The total for the reward fund donations from the public remains $299.21.
"He cheated those girls," Bluemke said. "That’s what I have the problem with. How do you this to four little girls who lost their lives in a tragic way?"
The man accused of starting the fake YouCaring page is not facing charges at this time so we are choosing not to name him. The Indiana State Police Organized Crime and Corruption Unit has been asked to review the case.
"It’s unacceptable what he's done and he deserves to be punished," Bluemke said. "The girls deserve justice."
How to donate to legitimate fund
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security is managing the official Flora fire reward fund. So far, the department has received six donations from the public totaling $299.21. Meantime, state officials are offering up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest in this case.
"IDHS appreciates all the donations that have been received, but we want to remind citizens to only donate to a trusted source," a department spokesperson said via emai. "While there may be other legitimate funds established for the Flora fire, if citizens are not confident the source can be trusted, they are encouraged to not donate and send a check directly to IDHS."
To contribute to the reward fund established by IDHS, you can send a check to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, 302 W. Washington Street Room E208, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46204. To make sure the funds go to the appropriate account, the memo line should read “Flora Fire Reward.”