An online crowdfunding campaign to support the widow and six children of Michael Raymond Wetzel, all pictured above, a victim in Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., has raised more than $200,000 in just 24 hours.
The YouCaring fundraising page was established Thursday by Lil’ Mamas, a website and support group for moms. Renee Wetzel, Michael’s wife and a Lil’ Mamas member, contacted the site Wednesday when she couldn’t reach her husband, who was “in a meeting and a shooter came in,” according to her post. “There are multiple people dead/shot. I can’t get a hold of him.”
Michael, a 37-year-old environmental specialist, was one of 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants opened fire during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. The ensuing manhunt ended when police shot two armed suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik.
“We are heartbroken for the Wetzel family and determined to help our Mama Renee in any way that we can,” Lil’ Mamas said on the fundraising page. “Michael leaves behind 6 children and his family will need all the support we can give them.”
Michael lit Advent wreath candles with five of his children at church just last week. (Photo: Vimeo)
The campaign, which began Thursday morning, hoped to raise $25,000 for the family. Response, fueled by 3,500 Lil’ Mamas Facebook members, was immediate and overwhelming. By Thursday night, more than 90,000 people had contributed to the campaign, according to Celia Behar, a campaign creator.
“Donations are coming in nonstop,” Behar tells Yahoo Parenting. “Most are nine to 20 bucks. But we did get one $10,000 donation.”
Donators left caring and anguished messages for the young family.
“I don’t even know you and your beautiful family, but my coworkers and myself spoke of you guys all day today. I hope this helps,” wrote one contributor.
Another wrote: “There are no words to say. I hope all the memories of your husband and dad help you light the path ahead of you.”
Renee Wetzel is a stay-at-home mom of a blended family: Andrew, 14; Kailee, 12; Caden, 8; Connor, 8; Karlie, 5; and Allie, 1. Both Michael and Renee had children from previous marriages. The baby, Allie, is their child together.
Renee’s Facebook page is topped with a Bible quote from Psalm 61:2. “When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” The FB page also shows pictures of Renee and Michael in a loving embrace and vacationing on what looks like a pontoon boat.
“Michael was the most amazing person. He was my best friend and an incredible father who was loved by all,” Renee wrote on the YouCaring page. “I didn’t know a better person. He loved his work and his family so very much. Without him, this family will never be the same.”
Five of the Wetzel children attend school in the Rim of the World Unified School District, which comprises three “tight-knit” towns in the San Bernardino Mountains, according to Lawrence King, assistant superintendent and spokesman for the school district.
“We pull together as a family,” King tells Yahoo Parenting. “Our thoughts and prayers and hearts go out the Wetzel family.”
King says in the aftermath of the shooting, teachers are trying to “keep things as normal as possible. That’s the best thing for the majority of students.” Counselors and psychologists are available to support struggling children.
Thursday evening, the Church of the Woods in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., where the Wetzels attend, streamed a prayer service to support the family. Pastor Rod Akins told the congregation that the Wetzels are still “a little numb,” and that “Michael’s going to be missed.” Just last Sunday, Michael lit Advent wreath candles at the church with five of his children. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m missing my better half,” he told the congregation in a video of that moment, posted on Vimeo. “She’s home with one of our other kids.”
Celia Behar, a spokeswoman for the family, tells Yahoo Parenting that Renee “is partly in shock. She’s heartbroken and devastated. But she’s so strong and brave and holding it together so well for the kids.”
Top photo: YouCaring