Support Debra Harrell

For: Debra Harrell
Organizer: Clair Ryan
of $10,000 goal.
Raised by 1583 donors
100% Complete
This fundraiser is closed. Thank you for your support!

The Story

MAJOR UPDATE: There has been some conflicting information in the press about Debra's employment status. Please see the update dated 7/24 for clarification.

ANOTHER WAY TO HELP: sign the petition to urge that the charges against Debra be dropped!

UPDATE: To facillitate updating donors more conveniently, I created a facebook page: Like and share to your hearts content! I will still post critical updates to this page too.

EDIT: I left out a critical detail in the original description. Ms. Harrell is no longer in jail. She has been free on bond since July 3rd, before her story went viral, but the charges against her are still pending and her daughter is still in state custody.

The unfortunate reality is that hard working Americans in low paying jobs can barely afford food and shelter let alone child care. Debra Harrell of North Augusta, SC, works in the food service industry and had previously been bringing her nine-year-old daughter to work, where she entertained herself on a laptop during mom's shift. Debra began allowing her daughter to play at a park near their home during her work shifts after the laptop was stolen from their home. The little girl was given a cell phone so she could call her mom at any time, and she also had a key to her house, which is roughly seven tenths of a mile from the mark. On June 30, when a parent at the park found out that Debra's daughter was alone and Debra was at work, the police were called. They arrested Debra for child abandonment/neglect and placed her daughter in the custody of the Department of Social Services. Debra has been free on bond since July 3rd, and her daughter, Regina, was returned to her care on July 18th, but the case against her is still pending.

To be sure, leaving a nine-year-old child out of sight and unsupervised for hours at a time is a choice that some parents would not make. However, many parents do choose to give their children a degree of independence and freedom and fondly remember enjoying the same freedoms as children themselves. It's a known fact that poor families with single and working parents struggle mightily in the summer when kids aren't able to go to school. However, it would be a very rigid reading of the SC state laws regarding child protection to consider leaving a nine-year-old at a busy park close to the parent's location during daylight hours "abandonment." Taking her daughter away was also a slap in the face to Debra as it sends a message that as a working mom, all her efforts are just not good enough.

The fundraiser is intended to help Debra pay her legal fees and to help her get back on her feet after the loss of work hours that has surely resulted. All the money raised will go to Debra. I will be in touch with her via her lawyer very soon to figure out how to transfer the funds. Please give what you can to help!

As for me? I'm Clair. I'm a total stranger from the Boston area (Southern New Hampshire) with little in common with Debra. I don't have any kids and I've never had to rely on a low wage job to make ends meet. I have a full-time job with benefits. I work hard, but I've never struggled,and I know how incredibly lucky and privileged I am for that. And I don't believe it makes me a better or more worthy person than anyone else, whether they're unemployed or working for minimum wage, trying to feed a family. I was moved by Debra's story and by the response from both very liberal and conservative people that arresting Debra and taking her daughter away was not the right solution.

Thank you so much for reading. I will try to keep up with any questions you ask via the button below!

Fundraiser Updates

Posted on September 25, 2014

Posted on September 25, 2014

Hi Everyone - Sorry for the long delay between updates. I knew that my work travel schedule would get nuts in September, which is why it was important to close the fundraiser back in August! 

All the money that we raised is now officially in Debra's trust account (or has been released directly to her already through her attorney). After all was said and done (after Paypal fees, a couple of refunds were made, and interest was accrued while the money was in the bank) the total that went into the trust was $43,456.67 (YAY!) I sent the first check for $28k back in July, and then after getting an expert opinion on any potential tax liability, I sent the final check for $15,456.67 earlier this month. The documentation is in the fund gallery, if anyone cares to see it.

In terms of Debra's legal situation, I don't have very much to share and am not able to get in-depth updates regularly. My understanding is that Debra's next court date, when there is likely to actually be some action on the case, is November 21. 

I still chat to Debra regularly, and she and Regina are doing well. Gina started back to school and is in the 4th grade this year. I posted a couple of photos of her looking cute as a button getting ready for school in the gallery. She and her mom enjoy cooking together and looking after their pets (including a very cute puppy named Roscoe). Life is still more challenging for them than it used to be. South Carolina Dept. of Social Services conducts bi-weekly welfare visits which, as you might imagine, gets pretty tiresome. Gina doesn't feel nearly as independent as she used to before the incident at the park. When she's not in school or childcare, she's scared to be out playing with her friends or at a neighbor's house, which is a real shame. She is getting some counseling to help overcome the anxiety that being taken from her mom caused. Debra is still working at McDonalds (as front-of-house department head) and is working more night shifts again. Debra and Gina were able to take a trip to the coast before school started and did some kayaking, crabbing, and fishing. 

Thanks again to you all so, so much for helping support this family during a time of need. They are truly grateful (as am I!). I will keep posting updates as I get them regarding the charges and court case.

My best,

Posted on August 18, 2014

Posted on August 18, 2014

Hello all,

Having been open for 33 days, this fundraiser to benefit Debra Harrell closed this evening. After what has really been a pretty terrible week in the national news, it helps raise my spirits to close this fundraiser as a massive success. Debra has 1,582 friends out there who collectively donated over $45,000. That's truly incredible, and I know she is so very greatful.

I will post an update in the coming weeks showing the final balance and payment from the fund to Debra's trust. I will also keep posing key updates on Debra's legal case.

Thanks again, and please keep in touch, either through updates from this site or via the Facebook page:

My best,

Posted on August 13, 2014

Posted on August 13, 2014

Hello all - I decided to extend the fundraiser by two more days because of some recent news and media exposure surrounding Debra's case.

As I posted on the Support Debra Harrell Facebook WJBF, the local ABC affiliate in Augusta, ran a story on Monday about Debra's police interrogation video, which they obtained from the county DA's office via a Freedom of Information Act request. When they ran the story, they also posted the full, un-redacted video of the interrogation on their website, cross posted to Facebook. This video contained Debra's home address and social security number. The video has since been edited, but the damage has already been done. It was a massive violation of her privacy, both by the DA's office for not redacting the private info in the video and by WJBF for posting it unedited. The story about this violation of Debra's rights is now being picked up in the media. ran a piece today and others are likely to follow.

People are clearly still interested in donating and helping Debra create a better future for herself and her little girl, so it made sense to extend just a little. Then I'm going on vacation for real.


Posted on July 31, 2014

Posted on July 31, 2014

Hi there -

Thank you all so much again for making this fundraiser such a support and for sending such wonderful messages for Debra and Regina.

Just a minor update for today. Although the pre-trial hearing for Debra's case was scheduled for yesterday, it has not yet occurred. The charges are still pending. I will post an update here and on Facebook as soon as I hear any news regarding the case.

Because I am still getting questions from time to time about the legitimacy of this fundraiser, I posted a couple of screen caps documenting the first big transfer of money into the legal trust set up for Debra at McGowan, Hood & Felder, the firm representing her. A cashier’s check from the fund was delivered to them earlier this week.

Here's the very short version of how a legal trust works for any who are curious: it is a type of account set up by lawyers or law firms to hold their clients' money at their clients' request. A lawyer/firm may draw down on trust accounts for compensation due to them for services rendered. Now, because Debra's lawyer is representing her pro bono, money can only be drawn out of the trust for certain out-of-pocket expenses. Debra and her lawyer have agreed to keep some of the money coming from this fundraiser in the trust to cover potential expenses related to her case, but most of it will be payable to Debra right away. Trust funds must be managed according to very strict rules set up by the national and state bar associations. Lawyers who mismanage or misappropriate client trust funds are at serious risk of disbarment.

Posted on July 29, 2014

Posted on July 29, 2014

EDITED TO ADD: Please keep Debra and Regina in your thoughts on Wednesday. That's the date of the pre-trial hearing where the judge will decide whether or not the case should go before a jury.

I wanted to post an update in celebration of reaching $40,000 in donations. It is truly, truly amazing to see donations coming in from all over the nation and world (California, Texas, Australia, Great Britain...just to name a few). It has also been heartening to see people who don't have a lot to give reaching out as well because they know what it's like to be in a tough spot. Thank you. Thank you everyone!

In case you missed it, Debra has been logging on the the comments section of the site (FB name Deborah Harrell) to say thank you in her own words and to answer the occassional question. She has mentioned that Regina would like to study to become a vet, and in honor of that, I've posted a completely adorable photo of Regina with her puppy in the gallery (credit to the Associated Press).

And speaking of the comments Debra's case and the fundraiser are getting more and more press, there have been some trolls posting comments. To be clear, you don't need to donate to post in the comments, but you do need to donate to post a message under the "supporters" tab (which is where many of the wonderful comments that bring tears to my eyes are posted). Anyway, I'm fine with civil discussion on the issues surrounding Debra's case in the comments. What I'm not fine with is hateful or abusive language, name calling, etc. I am doing my best to keep an eagle eye on it and to report and block trolls. If you see anything of the sort, you can either report it to facebook yourself or bring it to my attention via the "contact organizer" button on the fund homepage.

Thanks for your help!

Posted on July 24, 2014

Posted on July 24, 2014

As those of you who are keeping up with Debra's story will have noticed, there has been a lot of conflicting information about whether Debra was or wasn't fired from her job at McDonalds. Here's what I can tell you:

There was a major miscommunication between Debra and her store manager about her employment status. Debra was out of work for a number of weeks, and when she told her attorney that she had been let go, she absolutely believed that to be true. However, she was recently invited to return to full time work in her previous position. Debra is a shift manager who has worked at McDonalds for five years. I spoke to her about her job this morning, and she told me that while it's hard work, she likes working there and is excited to return.

There was also misinformation, which I unintentionally helped spread, about which McDonalds Debra works at. A lot of media and internet sleuths assumed that she worked at the McDonalds right behind the park. Well, you know what they say about assuming things... Debra actually works a few miles south of there in Augusta, GA. While the park where Regina played was not super close to Debra's work it was close quite close to their home - about seven tenths of a mile away. I have removed the erroneous map from the gallery and while I think a map showing the distance to Debra's home from the park would be equally telling, I'm not going to post that out of respect for Debra's privacy.

When I started this fundraiser, I had no idea if Debra was working or not, if she was on minimum wage at McDonalds or a manager, or if she had one kid or five. And frankly those details make no difference to how I feel about her case or about her receiving this money. However, if anyone who donated feels that they have been misled, please contact me via the ask button or at [email protected] and we can talk about how to make it right.


In lighter and very happy news, I spoke with Regina today! I had to stop myself from squealing in her ear, I was so excited. I learned that she's an only child, that she loves, loves, loves to read books from the library, and that she has been spending the last week giving her mom extra hugs and talking to her friends on the phone.

I have been very cautious about telling Debra how to use the money from the fund, because I don't see it as any of my business. But Debra asked me to share with her supporters that she plans to set most of the fund, beyond her immediate needs, aside in a CD for Regina's future education. Your donations are going to impact this family in a positive way for decades to come and they are so, so grateful.

Posted on July 21, 2014

Posted on July 21, 2014

A relatively minor update today. On Debra's behalf, thank you so, so much for your continued support. It means the world to her and Regina to know that there are 776 (and counting) amazing and generous souls out there!

I wanted to share some photos that Debra graciously sent me. They are photos that show Debra for who she is: a normal, hardworking person with a beautiful smile! Her variety of McDonalds uniforms makes me wonder how long she worked there for - it's something I will need to ask her next time we chat. As I’m sure you noticed, I changed the fundraiser banner. I don't have a mug-shot, but if I did, it's the last photo I'd want representing me all over the internet. I did keep the mug-shot as an inset and in the gallery, just so people can visually associate the fund with what they're seeing on the news... I hope this is an ok choice.

Today was mostly spent answering fund questions, doing a couple of media interviews (more on that in a minute), and navigating the ins and outs of how trust accounts work with Debra's attorney. We are all on the same page, and I'm going to be sending a big fat check to her trust later this week or early next at the very latest. Whew!

I am doing some very limited media associated with the fundraiser. Right now, I have done one telephone interview with a news station local to Debra and one interview for a written piece on viral fundraising. I don't plan on doing any major media or TV appearances unless Debra asks me to and is being interviewed too. She needs to be the one telling her story, but it's unlikely that will happen publically until after the charges against her are resolved.

Thanks for checking in and much love to all!

Posted on July 18, 2014

Posted on July 18, 2014

Ok, so I really didn't expect to be posting another update so soon, but I wanted your weekend to start as mine has with some really good news!

Debra was reunited with her daugher, Regina, as of this morning! The charges against Debra are still pending but at least in the intervening time, Debra and her daughter are together! As an aside, Regina made the third grade honor roll at North Augusta Elementary last year - not exactly the calling card of a troubled and neglected kid, is it?

I learned this because I was able to speak with Debra this morning! I got in touch with her through a wonderful and caring neighbor in North Augusta who I found via Facebook comments on a local news article covering Debra's case. Debra wanted me to tell you all how completely overwhelmed and thankful she is for your support. She considers it a true blessing. In addition to telling her about the fund, I sent her two pages full of comments that you all have left for her. It means the world to her. Please understand though, that Debra can't discuss the details of her case. She is also being bombarded with media inqueries and has asked me not to share her contact info at this time so that she can focus on Regina. I am happy to keep passing on messages through the comments or ask button.

In other good news, I was able to confirm with both Debra and her attorney that McGowan, Hood & Felder are providing services to Debra pro bono. I've had a few attorneys email me with suggestions of other practices in South Carolina who might be able to offer pro bono services. I am passing these contacts on. Thank you!

We are working together to get an account established in Debra's name for transferring the funds. We expect that to happen early next week.

So I'm taking the weekend off, aside from some continued signal boosting. Sorry if I'm slow with response to questions, but I gotta stay sane. Thanks again for helping make such a good thing happen. This has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Posted on July 18, 2014

Posted on July 18, 2014

Clair again - This is probably the last update I'll post here before I'm in touch with Debra and have a solid plan in place for moving the money. I may post bits and pieces to the brand spanking new facebook page for the fundraiser:

So, I have good news and bad.

I'll start with the good: Because of YOUR incredible generosity and the power of the internet, we raised the $10,000 goal I set in just 36 hours. My mind is completely blown and my faith in humanity restored.

And the bad: I got official word from Debra's attorney that McDonalds terminated her employment, because of course they did. It makes the fundraiser more critical than ever.

I also have a few miscellanious items to share, mostly in response to FAQ coming through the ask button:

Debra's legal status: Debra is not in jail - she has actually been out on bond since July 3rd. All this happened a couple of weeks before the story went viral. Her upcoming court dates on the criminal charges are a preliminary hearing on July 30 and a first appearance scheduled for September 5. Being so far away, I do not plan to organize any courthouse events, but if anyone is local and so inclined, that would be awesome!

Daughter's whereabouts: The unfortunate reality is that Debra isn't in a good position to fight for custody of her child until the criminal charges against her are dropped or resolved. She will likely remain in state custody for some time.

Legitimacy of the fund: Everything associated with the fund for Debra is new and seperate from all of my personal accounts. The Paypal was set up with an email address specifically for the fund and the fund is the only thing I am using Paypal for. The only account tied to the Paypal is a new savings account that will only carry and transfer money from the fund to Debra. There's pretty much no opportunity for accidental mismanagement and if (or when?) the lawyers come a-knocking, I will have solid and organized records of every single transaction. Sure, it could be a scam, but it would pretty much be the dumbest scam ever since my real name and social network identity are all over it. I manage grant money for a living, and I would lose my job if I was ever convicted of fraud. So not worth it!

Speaking of my real name, a couple of people have asked why, when you click through to donate, the name is Margaret Ryan. My secret is out - Margaret is my legal first name but everyone in my life knows me as Clair. Sorry for the confusion - blame my parents, I do! ;) 

So that's what I got. I hope to be able to share a message from Debra very soon and to get this money moving to where it's needed.

Posted on July 16, 2014

Posted on July 16, 2014

Hello - This is Clair

First of all WOW, just wow. I can't believe we got half way to the goal in less than 24 hours. Thank you all so much. Special thanks to Dodai Stewart and Jezebel for doing a follow-up piece addressing the fundraiser. It has made all the difference. I'm so looking forward to getting in touch with Debra and sharing this with her - my project for tomorrow. We have already made first contact with the law firm representing her in the hopes of getting my contact info to her.  I also had an opportunity to pick the brain of the wonderful Amanda Bishop, who organized a wildly successful YouCaring campaign to benefit another single mom in desperate circumstances. 

Well, I've gotten about 3 hours of sleep in the last 36 but it has never felt so worth it.

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