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Profiting on grief? An Oxford Strong Facebook group has community outraged

Grieving Oxford families say they don't know who started group
Posted at 10:50 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-08 22:50:30-05

(WXYZ) — As the Oxford community continues to grieve in the wake of the deadly school shooting, the 7 Investigators have learned that some are being accused of profiting off that community’s pain.

Within hours of the shooting at Oxford High School, someone started an “OXFORD STRONG” Facebook group. But the grieving families in Oxford say they don’t know who that person is, and they say they want it shut down.

The phrase “Oxford Strong” has become a rallying cry across Michigan; a way to support a community coping with the unimaginable. On November 30, 2021, 4 students were killed and 7 other people were injured when a fellow student opened fire inside.

PHOTO: Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin & Justin Shilling

“There’s a lot of pain,” said community advocate and business owner Matt Pfeiffer. “Their world is different forever.”

The day after the tragedy, Pfeiffer helped organize the community response for their neighbors in Oxford, turning his office in Lake Orion into a logistics center for donations.

“As a community we can get things done, but it’s heavy on every level dealing with families who’ve gone through unspeakable things,” said Pfeiffer.

As the community came together in person and on social media, Pfeiffer and others noticed something strange: a Facebook group that community members now allege is capitalizing on the grief that’s still gripping Oxford.

“To me it’s the lowest of the low,” said Pfeiffer.

Within hours of the shooting, an OXFORD STRONG Facebook group page was created by someone named Weasel Whitlock. Other community members later created groups with similar “Oxford Strong” and “Oxford Strong Community” names, but no one knew who Weasel was.

“The one thing he was doing financially on the page was selling Oxford Strong gear,” said Pfeiffer.

Weasel’s group rules were clear: absolutely no t-shirt links allowed. Instead he said “we are exclusively working with Bates Motel Apparel for shirts for this group! If you post links you will be removed and blocked immediately!”

And that’s exactly what happened to the Oxford Wildcat Boosters Club, which is the official fundraising group that’s been helping the school since 1972.

“He would block it, he would erase it, said Danielle Wernis, Oxford Wildcat Booster Club President. “I said 'you mean to tell me that the Boosters — that’s directly related to the High School — can’t post our hours and our spirit wear?' And he changed his tune very quickly.”

Wernis says Weasel eventually let them post, but others who say they questioned Weasel about the shirt sales or whether he was actually part of the community got blocked.

“How much money those people made off of our pain here in Oxford — it’s disgusting to me,” said Wernis.

Pfieffer says Weasel told some community members that the Los Angeles-based “Bates Motel Apparel” Etsy shop was donating to one of the GoFundMe accounts set up for the victims.

“I reached out to the GoFundMe that he says was the GoFundMe — and they said we don’t see any donations from a Bates Motel apparel,” said Pfeiffer.

After they questioned Weasel and Bates Motel Apparel about that, one $50 donation appeared. But that was it. A spokesperson for GoFundMe confirms that.

“People are angry,” said Wernis. “We’ve got enough on our plates than to have to deal with people like this. The community doesn’t need this. The people of Oxford don’t need this. And no community that’s going through such a tragedy should ever have to deal with this kind of stuff.”

Oxford community members say they’re furious an Etsy shop named after a movie about a serial killer is making money off this school shooting. And that’s not all: Bates Motel Apparel sells shirts from other tragedies, including the parade attack in Wisconsin, the tornado devastation in Kentucky, and within hours of the invasion of Ukraine — Weasel was promoting shirts for that too in Facebook groups.

“They’re using tragedies from around our country for their own financial gain,” said Pfeiffer. “It just shatters our confidence in who we can trust.”

The 7 Investigators contacted the owner of Bates Motel Apparel. She says she’s not affiliated with the OXFORD STRONG Facebook group, but did say she agreed to give Weasel a percentage of the t-shirt sales in exchange for promoting her merchandise. She says she made other anonymous donations to the GoFundMe accounts for the victims, but a GoFundMe spokeswoman says they have no record of that.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement leaders say they’re keeping a close eye on the Facebook group.

“Somebody puts up a site that quickly — what’s the real reason for the site,” said Oakland County Undersheriff Curtis Childs.

After the 7 Investigators reached out to Weasel Whitlock, he changed his name on Facebook to Fred White, and he hasn’t responded to our requests for comment.

We also reached out to Facebook, and now it appears the administrator of the page is gone. So far, Facebook has not responded to the Oxford community members who want the page taken down. We have asked them the same question, and so far they have not responded other than to say the group and administrator appeared “authentic.”

The group currently has 2,600 members in it.

After we contacted the owner of Bates Motel Apparel, she told us she plans to take down all of the Oxford Strong merchandise, and it appears she did that Tuesday afternoon. No one from Etsy responded to our requests for comment.

If you want to support the Oxford students directly, click here to contact the Oxford Wildcat Boosters.

Meanwhile, Matt Pfeiffer started a new Facebook group to support the Oxford efforts called “North Oakland Strong.