People claiming to raise money for dead child run from WSMV4 Investigates
Individuals at four Nashville locations hold posters requesting money to pay for a young person’s funeral.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - They are impossible to miss.
People standing street corners, sometimes walking through traffic, holding signs with the word “funeral” written prominently at the top, often carrying brightly painted water jugs to collect money.
The posters feature a young person’s photo and request donations to pay for the funeral.
When Nashville pastor Fred Matthews first saw the solicitors, he immediately gave money.
“Your heart bleeds. you think, ‘Oh my God,’” Matthews told WSMV4 Investigates. “My heart was so touched. I was going to go back to our congregation to raise funds.”
But Matthews thought he saw them in more than one location, sometimes week after week, which made him contact WSMV4 Investigates to find out why.
“I began to question because it’s taking a long time to have this funeral,” Matthews said.
We ultimately found them in four different locations, on White Bridge Pike and Charlotte Pike, Old Hickory Boulevard and Dickerson Road, at Gallatin Pike and Myatt Drive in Madison, and Eighth Avenue South near the intersection of Wedgewood Avenue.
And we noticed: all were holding similar signs, but the featured different photos of children with different names.
Having questions about why the people were raising money, at the same time, for the funerals of different children, we approached a man with a sign on White Bridge Pike, but as soon as he saw us, he took off running.
We then spotted another woman across the street with a sign, who began to walk away as we approached and tried to conceal her sign.
When we asked to speak with her, she said she did not speak English.
But we would soon learn that she could understand us perfectly. “Who is on this poster?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“My family,” the woman responded.
“Did (the child’s death) happen here?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“Yeah,” she said.
“In Nashville?” we asked.
“Yeah,” she said. When asked who she was raising money for, she responded, “For food.”
“If you don’t mind, can I look at your sign?” asked WSMV4 Investigates. “No, my sign. My job,” she said.
“Your job? How is this your job?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“Sorry. I’m sorry. Bye,” she said, running into traffic. The next day, WSMV4 Investigates spotted different solicitors at White Bridge Pike and Charlotte Pike.
As soon as we started recording with our phones, they ran across the street.
WSMV4 Investigates followed, asking if we could ask them questions about their solicitations.
The man and the woman ran through another intersection, but we caught up with them on the sidewalk.
They also carried a poster with the same child’s photo from the day before.
“Are you related to this person?” we asked.
“Family,” they responded.
“You’re family?” WSMV4 Investigates asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” the man responded.
“How much money are you making?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“Un paquito,” he responded in Spanish, meaning “little.” The woman next to him said she had raised nothing. We asked why they continued to walk away from us, but they did not respond.
WSMV4 Investigates took the child’s image and traced its origin to a 2014 article from a Romania news site for a missing child.
Because the people spoke in a language we didn’t recognize, we took our video to three different translators, all who said they were not speaking English or Middle Eastern dialects.
One of the translators suspected that the solicitors were speaking in some sort of Romanian dialect.
Matthews said after seeing them several times, he started to ask questions to the solicitors as well.
“So what did they say to you?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“All of a sudden, she couldn’t speak English, and she just jotted off to the next car,” Matthews said. “This may be something larger than a Nashville thing.”
And our investigation found it goes well beyond Nashville.
A review of police and news reports from across the country reveals warning about similar solicitors in Springfield, Missouri and two groups arrested in San Bernardino, California.
Officer Mike Martinez investigated a similar funeral scam case in Rialto, California.
“Were you able to ask why did you do this?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“One of the guys admitted that he was doing it to raise money for his rent,” Martinez said.
A spokeswoman for Metro Police said they haven’t made any arrests in Nashville.
Matthews said the similarities of the scams across the country show it’s a nationwide problem.
“This is something bigger that’s going on,” Matthew said.
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