GoFundMe accounts provide closure

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Friends, family raise money for expenses after student death

Elizabeth Pulanco / Winonan

The body of Winona State University student Chukwudi Benjamin “Ben” Onyeaghala of White Bear Lake, Minn. was found in the Mississippi River on Oct. 16. In response to his death, the Winona State community held a candle light vigil, and personal friends of Onyeaghala created a GoFundMe account.

GoFundMe is a social fundraising website which allows users to set up fundraising campaigns for causes of their choosing.

Jackie Drake, a family friend and co-worker of Onyeaghala’s, created one of the GoFundMe accounts in his honor. Drake and Onyeaghala met during his time working at a Holiday Gas Station.

Drake recalls working with Onyeaghala during the summers when he was saving money for college. She said he was soft-spoken and well-liked.

According to Drake, the money gathered from the accounts will provide funds for a private investigator, a second autopsy and will also help Onyeaghala’s family with the funeral expenses.

“When the statements were coming out from the police, the owner of the boat and the students that were with him earlier that night, there were so many different angles. They originally wanted to hire one of the top private investigators in Minnesota to do some more inside research to find out what really happened,” Drake said.

Drake hopes the donations help the family financially, and that the funds for the second autopsy can bring justice and closure.

Drake volunteered to create the page at the first prayer session held at the church his family attends. Drake, who has a degree in visual communication and computer graphics, explained how she was computer literate and was happy to help in any way she could.

“I said I would be honored to help set up any account or any website to market and spread awareness about what was going on,” Drake said.

Drake’s mother, who is the president of the Minnesota Service Station Association, was also able to bring awareness to the situation when Onyeaghala first went missing.

“She used her connections and called the president of Holiday corporate and had posters and electronic signs put up in surrounding areas in Winona about Ben,” Drake said.

When Onyeaghala’s body was found, Drake reconnected with Onyeaghala’s mother and created the GoFundMe account. There are two GoFundMe accounts created in Onyeaghala’s honor: one created by Drake, and the other by Onyeaghala’s mother with Drake’s assistance.

“I helped her create the account over the phone and created an account along with her,” Drake said. “I said, ‘Why don’t I create an account as well. My name will be the creator, but I will use your bank information and any donations go directly into your savings account and you can create another account, doubling our odds.”

With two accounts, Drake believes more awareness will be created through her own friends and Onyeaghala’s family and friends seeing the GoFundMe accounts. Collectively, the accounts have raised $1,710 as of Monday, Nov. 14.

While working on the GoFundMe page, Drake has also become close with Onyeaghala’s mother, and she has described working with his mother as a humbling experience.

“I talked to his mom the day they found his body. I have never spoken to a mother who had just lost her son and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to listen to,” Drake said. “I was at the wake last weekend and his mom is truly a soldier. She is staying so strong throughout all of this. It is quite miraculous.”

For Drake, every donation and kind word helps. Both Drake and Onyeaghala’s family and friends appreciate knowing that there are friends both in Winona and the White Bear Lake area that care about what happened to Onyeaghala.

“After knowing what happened to this wonderful, wonderful young man, I hope that it can help other students take precaution and always be safe. It can be a dark world out there, but there is beauty if you choose to find it,” Drake said. “I hope that Ben’s legacy lives on, because nothing good ever dies.”

-By Elizabeth Pulanco

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