Fundraisers for girl swept off pier split families
Flint — When Eliza Trainer drowned after being swept off a pier in Lake Michigan, two men tearfully embraced during her vigil. One was her dad. The other felt like he was her dad.
A few days later, the men’s relationship fractured.
Scott Trainer accused the other man’s wife, Sabra Goodrich, of fraud when she was named the beneficiary of an online fundraiser to pay for Eliza’s funeral.
Trainer said he was eventually given control of the GoFundMe account, but only after he contacted the police and the fundraising website.
Then, when a friend of Goodrich set up a personal fundraiser for Goodrich, who, with her husband, Derek, were close to Eliza, Trainer opposed the campaign in a Facebook post.
The Goodriches want to use some of the proceeds to hire a private diver to find Eliza, who remains missing, but Trainer said the police don’t need any help.
“None of this is for the benefit of Eliza,” he said about Goodrich’s actions. “I just want them to leave my daughter out of whatever they’re doing.”
Goodrich declined to comment, but friends defended her actions.
Rachelle Huff, who started the private fundraiser, said it was her idea to raise money. She said Goodrich felt like a mom to Eliza and is guided only by the teen’s best interests.
“Sabra is an upstanding girl,” Huff said. “She wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t on the up and up.”
How controversy erupted
Eliza, 16, was an only child who was drawn to the large Goodrich family, relatives said. She accompanied the clan on vacations, shopping trips, fishing expeditions.
She became close to Goodrich after her own mom died in 2015 from a rare form of ovarian cancer.
On Jan. 1 Eliza and Goodrich’s son, Kade, 19, drove to Holland to take photos of the large waves crashing into shore, said Trainer. Standing on the pier at night, a wave knocked them into the lake.
Kade clambered onto a rock and tried to pull Eliza out of the water but a wave tore her away. Kade survived the ordeal.
One day later, Goodrich scrambled to set up a GoFundMe account.
She was going to be interviewed by a television reporter and wanted to be able to give viewers a place where they could donate money for Eliza’s funeral, said Ian Cole, an acquaintance who helped her set up the account.
She told Trainer about her plan, saying she would make him the recipient of the funds, Trainer said.
After the account was set up, however, Goodrich was named as the beneficiary. Asked why it wasn’t Trainer, Cole said he was under the impression Trainer wasn’t a big part of Eliza’s life.
The fund drew $7,000 on the first day. It now has $15,555.
Trainer still hadn’t been named recipient after several days, so he emailed Cole, who was listed as organizer of the account.
When Cole told him he needed to talk to Goodrich, Trainer said he would go to the police and Cole would be going to jail, Cole said.
Trainer said he contacted Goodrich, who said she was dealing with five grieving children, that she was worried about her family. Trainer said he told her at least she had a family to worry about.
“I asked her about (why the account hadn’t been changed) and she came up with really dumb excuses,” he said.
After being threatened, Cole said he contacted GoFundMe, which switched the account to Trainer after three days.
Fundraiser set up for dive
On Jan. 9, the day Trainer was given control of the GoFundMe account, Huff began the personal fundraiser for the Goodrich family.
Huff said she didn’t use GoFundMe because the website was too difficult to work with.
Instead she posted a Facebook message asking people to use PayPal to send donations to her or Goodrich.
The money is to be used for the private dive, therapy for her children, who were close to Eliza, and the expenses of relatives who have traveled to western Michigan to look for the teen, Huff said.
“Sabra wants to give her kids some closure (by helping to find Eliza),” she said.
The Goodriches have been frustrated by the low number of times law enforcement agencies have sent divers to search the lake since Jan. 1, relatives said.
Goodrich’s mother, Linda Woods, who lives in the Flint suburb of Flushing, has been a daily visitor to the Holland shoreline. She said the water is calm most mornings.
“We just don’t understand it,” Woods said about the infrequent searches.
Capt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said the water is too turbulent most days to send in divers.
The Goodriches want to retain Bruce’s Legacy, a search and recovery group from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, Woods said.
The nonprofit has found 30 drowning victims around the world during its six years of operation, according to its website.
The volunteer group asks that only its expenses are covered during a search, Huff said. The cost for Eliza’s search would be $600.
Huff said she didn’t know if Goodrich has received any donations in the fundraising drive.
Trainer opposes private dives
On Jan. 11, two days after Huff’s Facebook message announcing the personal fundraiser, Trainer wrote his own social media post opposing it.
Without referring to the Goodriches by name, he said a private dive team wasn’t necessary. He said police were doing everything they could and didn’t want anyone interfering with them.
“PLEASE MAKE THIS GO VIRAL!” he wrote about his message.
Trainer told The Detroit News that the police won’t allow private divers into what he called a crime scene, and that the Goodriches know it.
He surmised the personal fundraising drive wasn’t being held through GoFundMe because of Goodrich’s actions in the earlier fundraising campaign.
A spokeswoman for GoFundMe said the website didn’t have a problem with Goodrich.
“Sabra Goodrich worked with our team to transfer the account,” said spokeswoman Meghan Scripture. “It’s not uncommon for someone to create a GoFundMe to help another individual.”
Huff said she didn’t know if police would object to a private dive. She also had been unaware that Trainer was opposing her money-raising effort.
“Oh, goodness,” Huff said when told Trainer was questioning Goodrich’s motives. “If he’s saying that, I would think it’s his grief talking.”
After Goodrich was emailed by The News Thursday and told about Trainer’s criticism, she declined to comment. The publication was then contacted by Trainer, who said he had spoken with Goodrich after the email.
Trainer said they agreed that pain and anxiety over the tragedy, coupled with accusations of other people, had caused people to say hurtful things. He said they both regretted it.
Asked if Goodrich had made a hurtful comment, Trainer said he wasn’t aware of any.
In a Wednesday Facebook post, he said he hoped the finger-pointing would end.
“My hope is that everyone can just get along and put all of this behind us,” Trainer wrote. “I know in my heart that Eliza would want that.”