Dead Marine’s sister fires back at NJ search group that shamed family over money
CLEMENTON — The sister of a missing Marine who was found dead last month disputes a private search-and-rescue organization's claim that the family stiffed them on the reward money for finding the body.
The family of Lance James says the reward money was never for finding his dead body.
Mark Chmielinski of the K9 Search and Rescue told 6ABC Action News that when he went to collect the reward he was told that the money had been used for Lance's funeral.
James went to the Hide-A-Way Tavern in Clementon on Dec. 2 but was escorted out after some sort of altercation with another patron. He left his jacket and cell phone behind and left on foot because he does not own a car. He was never heard from again.
On Jan. 13, the Burlington County K9 Search & Rescue found his body in Bottom Lake, which is located a couple miles south of the Hide-A-Way.
His sister, Jessica Hassan, led social media efforts to find James and created a GoFundMe page that accepted donations for a reward for "any information provided that directly results in Lance."
Hassan told New Jersey 101.5 that "this was never meant to be malicious or mislead. It is a simple misunderstanding or poor wording. Perhaps we thought it was clear but I guess it wasn't. We had several teams help us and hundreds of volunteers and unfortunately, not the ending anyone wanted. We thought we worded it correctly to avoid situations like these."
The money all went to the funeral, according to Hassan. "We didn't pocket the money."
"People were mad at this team because they publicly all over Facebook posted about him being dead before we could even notify our family. They also shamed the other rescue teams working with us as not being certified and ruining the scenes. I had to ask them several times to take the post down and was not offered an apology up front. Then the next day they asked for the money."
Hassan said that she spoke to Tom Yohnnson from the K9 Search and Rescue and thought they understood about the reward.
"We had a nice conversation and he even gave me info I didn't have regarding when they found James. We did tell them we wanted to make a donation toward them."
She said most of the donations came from her, her father and stepmother.
After his body turned up, online donors were notified about the news and offered a refund of their contributions, she said.
"Not one single person who donated asked for a refund or is upset where the money went. They were given a choice. They were all our friends, family, friends of Lance, coworkers, hence no complaints there from them."
Hassan called the 6ABC report "one-sided" and that they did not use a statement she provided.
"Rather than deal with our mourning or the loss of Lance we are dealing with another news station trying to portray a one-sided story to cause unnecessary drama by leaving out facts and not fully disclosing the details as well as flat out lying about statements."
A message left for the K9 Search & Rescue was not returned.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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