Published January 24, 2014
Ugly words between relatives of an 8-year-old upstate New York boy who died early Monday trying to save his family are marring an outpouring of hometown sympathy — and financial support.
Tyler Doohan’s heartbreaking heroism made national headlines after he alerted his family to a fire in his grandfather’s trailer near Rochester early Monday. Fire officials credit him with saving six family members, but he died when he went back in to save his disabled uncle. Now, an extended family squabble is compounding the tragedy after more than $55,000 poured in from around the country, thanks to an online campaign set up by a neighbor.
“My intention was to pay for the memorial service,” said Theresa Fiorica, 28, a friend and neighbor of Tyler’s mother, Crystal Vrooman, whose initial goal was to raise $5,000 to cover the boy’s funeral expenses. “I didn’t think that it was going to go as far and as big as it did.”
The funds are in an online account set up through the website YouCaring.com. Although they are earmarked specifically to “give this baby the service he deserves,” the account names Vrooman as the beneficiary. Vrooman, who did not live in the trailer that burned, told FoxNews.com she hopes to use the money to buy a new home.
“My son just got lost in a huge tragedy,” Vrooman told FoxNews.com. “Do you think I want to move into a trailer? I want a nice house [as] I have always been telling the kids, and to give my kids a great school district.”
But other members of the splintered family, including Vrooman’s ex-boyfriend and Tyler’s father, Jason Doohan, say they don’t trust Vrooman to do the right thing.
“My actual fear is that she is not going to use the money properly,” Doohan said. “My son is the greatest kid I’ve ever known. Use [the money] the right way, on what Tyler would want it to be spent on.”
Joseph Breyette, 43, the uncle of Tyler who is serving as a spokesman for the family members saved by the boy, said Vrooman has substance abuse problems — problems she said she conquered “years ago.”
“My biggest concern is that the money is going to be mismanaged and the people who went through the tragedy are going to be forgotten,” Breyette said. “I would prefer someone court-appointed, not her, should have control of that money.”
Vrooman says she has so far not touched any of the money, and Fiorica has urged her to get an attorney to handle the account.
“I will hire an attorney to do this right and have receipts to do everything,” Vrooman said. “ I planned on having receipts to show everyone what we used the money for and to send out thank you cards … to say thank you to these people.”
Other tributes to the brave boy are under way, and less problematic.
At East Rochester Elementary School, where Tyler attended fourth grade, textbooks may be purchased in his memory, Interim Superintendent Richard Stutzman Jr. said. He said the boy’s teacher and classmates are taking Tyler’s loss hard, but trying to press on.
“What we’re trying to do is keep business as normal as we can here and try to move forward,” Stutzman told FoxNews.com on Thursday.
Penfield Fire Chief Chris Ebmeyer said discussions are under way to give Tyler an honorary firefighter’s funeral to recognize his heroic actions.
“From our standpoint as a fire department, this kid definitely played a role in saving six individuals' lives, and he lost his life trying to save a seventh and an eighth," he told FoxNews.com. "It brings it into a different arena … This hero deserves to be recognized for what he did.”
The cause of the blaze, believed to be electrical in origin, remains undetermined pending testing. Results are expected within 24-48 hours, Ebmeyer said.
Two of the three victims — Tyler Doohan; his 57-year-old grandfather, Lewis Beach; and his 54-year-old uncle, Steven Smith — were burned so badly that the medical examiner has been unable to positively identify them. Six survivors of the fire, including Tyler’s 65-year-old grandmother, suffered minor injuries.
“It’s the most tragic we’ve ever experienced, without a doubt,” Ebmeyer said. “It’s affecting everybody. You feel overwhelmed. I would hope this young man and the other victims who perished in this fire get the recognition they deserve.”