NYTimes – When a homeless teenager named Fred Barley rode a bicycle some 50 miles into Barnesville, Ga., this month, he set up a small tent in a clump of bushes near Gordon State College, where he had registered. When two police officers found him, he told them he wanted to get a job before classes started.
Two police officers checked the 19-year-old into the Sun Inn nearby for a couple of nights, paying out of their own pockets, the motel’s owner, Ansuya Pandya, said in an interview. That good deed caught the attention of another resident, Casey Blaney, who fired up a GoFundMe page and paid to extend Mr. Barley’s stay.
“I thought that helping find him a job, giving him some money and paying for his motel was going to be it for me,” Ms. Blaney wrote on the Success for Fred campaign page. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely and rejected he must feel.”
Mr. Barley’s story, reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSBTV, an Atlanta TV station, was spun out onto news sites across the internet, and had all the ingredients of a viral feel-good tale. Mr. Barley told reporters he had ridden his younger brother’s bike six hours into town from Conyers, Ga., but little else is known about his life.
When people ask me hey Kmarko, why are you so cynical about everything? The internet is supposed to be a fun place, how come you’re always jaded by the things you read? I can give a bunch of examples, but there are 2 that jump out. Josh Shaw, the USC cornerback who jumped out of a window to save his drowning nephew and got 4 paragraphs from me about what a hero he is. Oops, he made the whole thing up and was actually just running from the cops to avoid a domestic violence situation.
The other isn’t confirmed yet but appears to be the story of Fred Barley, the kid who blew up the internet by working his ass off and pedaling a child’s bike 6 hours in the Atlanta heat to register for college classes. What did I write about it? “Fred Barley is an internet creation to make people feel good…he is exactly who deserves a GoFundMe…makes me feel like I was a piece of shit in college.” And now, in a development I should have seen coming 50 miles away since nothing on the internet can ever truly have a happy ending, the whole thing is shady as hell –
Ms. Blaney’s campaign became amplified by the breathlessly emphatic nature of social media after the story was posted on a popular Facebook page called Love What Matters. The support quickly poured in — $15 here, $20 there — from people across the world. And the campaign gathered more than $184,000 in 12 days.
Then, Ms. Blaney abruptly halted fund-raising last week. The pendulum of social media support had swung back to skepticism and suspicions about where the money was going.
Two weeks after Mr. Barley came to Barnesville, he has gone into hiding after being accused of taking the money and running, even though no funds have been dispersed from the campaign. Ms. Blaney is lying low, as well, after being accused of also taking the money.
Ms. Blaney insisted on the campaign’s Facebook page Friday, “All of the funds are going into an educational trust.”
She also told of the toll of handling the campaign, writing, “I am a wife and a mother and cannot continue to handle the multitude of calls, texts, social media requests and comments.”
Fred hasn’t touched any of the money, and Blaney’s lawyer insists it’s all going into a trust. GoFundMe says they are working with both parties to make sure the money goes to Fred’s education. So maybe there’s a chance for this to all sort itself out. But that pizza job he begged for to earn money for school? He quit after a week and disappeared –
The episode has divided residents of Barnesville, a small town of 6,500 in Lamar County where rumors tend to spread fast online, according to Debbie Adamson, the owner of DB’s Pizzeria, who said she had reached out to Mr. Barley with a job offer.
He worked at the pizzeria for a week and a half as a dishwasher and a pizza-making trainee before telling Ms. Adamson about an offer for free tuition at another college in Alabama. He later called saying that the offer didn’t pan out, and Ms. Adamson has not heard from him since Friday, she said.
“Right now he has more or less gone into hiding mode,” Ms. Adamson, 53, said in an interview on Monday. “No one has seen or heard from him.”
Best case scenario – Fred got overwhelmed from all the attention and is lying low for a bit, Blaney got overwhelmed by all the press and media, and both of them are just working with lawyers and GoFundMe behind the scenes to quietly get Barley into school in the Fall. Rooting for that one. Unfortunately I stopped believing in best case scenarios when I found out Santa Claus, Peter Pan and Count Chocula weren’t real, so I’m assuming somebody stole money here, and the internet once again dishes out an L to anyone with a heart.