Man’s desire to aid Storro backfires

Fundraiser, first considered a scam, withdrawn at family’s request

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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When a Brush Prairie church received a letter from a man identifying himself as “Reverend Garner” pleading for money for Bethany Storro’s medical expenses, the church’s business administrator smelled a scam.

Instead, the letter seems to be a well-meaning but misguided effort by someone Storro met at Elahan Place, a Vancouver rehabilitation program operated by Columbia River Mental Health Services.

Storro made national news last year when she said she was attacked by a stranger Aug. 30 near Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. She received an outpouring of community support, including $28,000 in donations.

Approximately two weeks later, she admitted that she’d applied a caustic drain cleaner on her face in an attempt to kill herself, but then panicked and decided to say she was attacked. She pleaded guilty in April to a gross misdemeanor for lying to police. She also was charged with theft for accepting donations under false pretenses.

David Joel Garner, 45, said it didn’t occur to him that it would look bad when he sent a letter to churches asking for money to help Storro pay for skin grafts on her damaged face.

“In this time of need,” Garner wrote, “I ask you to join me in the spirit of giving, and allow this child of God, to have her remaining years, blessed ones, the way God intended.”

Garner said he called the Internal Revenue Service and his bank before sending the letter.

He was surprised when contacted by The Columbian on Friday to learn the letter was viewed as a possible scam.

He then called Storro’s mother, Nancy Neuwelt, who asked him to withdraw the plea for money.

“It was ignorance,” Garner said. “I’m trying to help someone, but I went about it the wrong way.”

The Neuwelts only learned of the letter on Friday, and Storro had no knowledge of it either, said Andrew Wheeler, her defense attorney.

“The Neuwelts see this is a misguided attempt to help,” Wheeler said. As far as they know, no money changed hands, the attorney said.

Storro repaid the money she was given earlier, and is in a felony diversion program for one count of second-degree theft. If Storro completes the terms of the program, the charge will be dismissed.

“This person’s heart may have been in the right place, but we understand how sensitive these kind of issues are,” Wheeler said. “The family would not make any attempt to solicit funds from the community.”