Behind nearly two grand on rent and facing eviction, Dasha Kelly started an online fundraiser in July, asking strangers to help her and her three daughters stay in their North Las Vegas home.
“We were maintaining just fine before this pandemic hit. Now we are suffering,” the 32-year-old wrote in the introduction to the GoFundMe donation page, which she titled “Help My Girls & I avoid eviction.”
For weeks, the fundraiser languished without a donation, she said. Then, on Aug. 2, CNN ran a story about the family’s struggle. A day later, the news organization aired another interview with Kelly as she sat on her couch with three girls identified as her daughters.
By the time the broadcast was over, donors had given Kelly nearly $100,000, dwarfing her $2,000 goal. The windfall would allow her to pivot from the specter of eviction to the certainty of having her rent covered for the rest of her lease, she said.
On Monday, some 3,700 people had donated about $234,000.
But days after the CNN clip aired, a woman came forward and said that she was the girls’ mother. Kelly then revealed she is not the biological mother of the three girls who sat with her on the couch.
On Monday, she posted an update to her fundraiser, informing people that the three girls – ages 8, 6 and 5 – are not her biological daughters but her partner’s. Although she doesn’t live with the girls’ father or the children, she said the three recognize her as “a mother figure.”
“I’ve loved these girls unconditionally,” Kelly said in the update. “I treat them as my daughters, and care for them in this way.”
GoFundMe has since frozen the money donors gave her. Kelly did not respond to a Tuesday night message from The Washington Post. A GoFundMe spokesman told The Post the company will give people two weeks to rescind their donations before it releases what’s left to Kelly.
By Wednesday morning, the total amount of donations dipped to less than $200,000 as people sought refunds.
CNN did not respond to a request for comment, but published an update to the story Monday, explaining Kelly’s true relationship to the three girls. Reporter Nick Watt said in a follow-up video that, when he interviewed Kelly in her apartment for the story, everything he saw corroborated the idea that Kelly was their parent.
“The girls all called her mom, appeared to be very much at home and there was nothing we could see to raise any suspicion,” he said.
Watt said he learned that Kelly was not the girls’ parent when a woman named Shadia Hilo reached out to the news organization and, armed with birth certificates, proved she was their mother.
“Shadia Hilo is understandably upset that someone else claimed to be the mother of three of her children, children she also cares for,” Watt said.
When CNN followed up with Kelly, she told the news station that she had described the children as her daughters because “she considers herself to be like a mother to those girls.”
Watt conceded that Kelly spends significant time caring for the girls in her apartment. Hilo told CNN, for example, that she had recently dropped the girls off with Kelly for a week, which is when they appeared on the TV segment from the woman’s couch.
“She clearly does look after those girls part of the time,” Watt said in his video update. “But in that GoFundMe post … she described the girls as her daughters, and that’s just not true.”
On the GoFundMe site, Kelly said she still needs donations to avoid eviction and would use them “to get back on my feet and support my family.” She added that she would put some of the money in a savings account for the girls.
The Aug. 3 interview with Kelly was part of CNN’s coverage of a federal eviction moratorium that had expired days earlier on July 31. Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who also appeared in the segment, repeatedly told Kelly that she was worthy of financial support. Kelly cried and appeared overwhelmed as an anchor gave her real-time updates about how much money people were donating.
“You and your family are worth it,” Bush said. “You are worth having your needs met.”
Bush had just won a fight to secure protections for renters like Kelly. For three nights, the Democratic lawmaker slept in a sleeping bag on the steps outside the Capitol. She was part of a group of activists and lawmakers protesting the end of an eviction moratorium originally implemented by the Centers for Disease Control in September during the coronavirus pandemic.
The protest attracted national attention, pushing the Biden administration to respond to Bush’s demands. On Aug. 3, the CDC announced a 60-day ban on evictions in counties with a substantial or high risk of community transmission of the coronavirus, which covers about 90 percent of the country.
Because it falls in the high-risk category, Clark County – where Kelly lives – is covered.