AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin designer believes she was misled about a benefit fashion show that was supposed to help the family of a sick little girl facing mounting medical bills.
Doctors say 3-year-old Laekyn Etheridge has terminal cancer. At such a young age, Laekyn has already undergone chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
“I try not to believe the doctors and we’re just hoping for a miracle,” said Aspen Etheridge, Laekyn’s mother.
Designer Lajuana Williams, owner of Austin’s LKW Designs, says she heard about Laekyn’s story from Houston-area event organizer Quinna Carpenter, who runs Kids Fashion Parade Houston. Williams says Carpenter asked her to make outfits for the girls participating in the fashion show. She made close to 30 outfits, free of charge, which she displays proudly in her Austin design shop.
“Everybody spent time, money and energy to get to this special event to prepare for this special child,” Williams said.
In April, Williams loaded up her dresses and drove to Houston, where the event was supposed to be held. But when the day of the event came, Williams only found a locked door at the venue. And she wasn’t the only one. Several parents, some who paid as much as $300 for their daughters to walk in the fashion show, also had no idea it had been cancelled. Brittany Cain said Carpenter told her the show could be a good opportunity for her daughter to start a modeling career.
“All I wanted was not for my kid to be like a big time star, but exposure,” Cain said. “There is going to be a lot of scouts there, there is going to be a lot of people there.”
Cain paid $300 for her daughter to participate, money she says Carpenter told her would go to Laekyn’s family. Cain said when she started asking Carpenter specific questions about the fashion show, her daughter was suddenly kicked out, with no refund.
The Etheridge family says they haven’t received a dime and started getting suspicious even before the fashion show about whether they would ever see the money collected for Laekyn.
“My sister was talking to her and asking where all the money was that was supposed to go to Laekyn and she could never text her back or say where all the money was,” said Laekyn’s mother, Aspen.
KXAN’s sister station, KPRC, in Houston, reports, in addition to charging parents, tickets for the show were sold online and a website soliciting donations for Laekyn were linked to Carpenter’s own account.
When KPRC tried to speak with Carpenter, they received a message on Facebook reading it was the family who cancelled the event with no explanation. She also wrote some sponsors pulled out because “they felt it was a scam.”
During a follow up phone conversation with KPRC, Carpenter said she would refund parents their entry fee. She also said the event was never designed to solely benefit Laekyn-only 20 percent of the proceeds were supposed to go to the family. Carpenter then said she would provide more follow up information. But when KPRC did not hear back from her, they tried to speak with her at her home. As they waited, Carpenter called the Montgomery Sheriff’s Office to report suspicious people trying to videotape her property and get in through her front gate.
Williams says she feels betrayed, but her sympathy is with Laekyn and her mother.
“I feel her pain. Her little girl is not only sick, the medical bills are piling up and she’s got to go through this, too?” Williams said. “It’s damaging, it’s damaging for the mom and for her child. She still needs money, she still needs that money, so it was cruel.”
Etheridge has filed a report with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, asking for detectives to look into what money was raised for the fashion show on behalf of Laekyn.
With additional reporting from KPRC.