Was This Viral Depressing Baby Shower Just a Top-notch Scam?

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Photo: Robin/CC/flickr

Over the weekend, expectant mother Chelsie Collins hosted a baby shower at a Golden Corral in Ohio. What was supposed to be a celebration turned sour, when Dorthy Holmes and her boyfriend were the only guests who showed up to the shower. Holmes snapped several photos of the sad affair and posted them on Twitter, where Collins and Holmes quickly went viral, and strangers on the internet donated gifts and cash to the lonely mother-to-be. It was a classic heartwarming viral story — until people started asking questions.

After the sad-baby-shower tweet — which had over 16,000 retweets before it was deleted on Wednesday afternoon — started making the rounds, people began showing similar support, asking for links where they could send gifts and money to help the mother-to-be. Over 350 gifts have since been purchased on the mother’s Walmart registry. Her friend, the young woman who tweeted the original sad-photo set, also tweeted a link to a PayPal account for donations.

But something about the initial tweet and the fervor that followed — perhaps the fact that the PayPal account is under the friend’s name and not the mother’s — piqued suspicion. Online, people were not convinced and began trying to poke holes in the young women’s story. Amateur sleuths called the restaurant and were told by a manager that the party had been attended by 12 people — the same number it had been reserved for initially.

Collins and Holmes told the Irish Examiner they had invited 70 people to the event on Facebook. “We posted in the event numerous times and got no comments — only a few people marked that they were interested. When the day came nobody showed up,” Holmes said. When Select All contacted the Golden Corral where the shower was held, the manager said the restaurant was busy and he would be in touch later with a formal statement, but confirmed that “it was 12 people” at the party.

Select All also reached out to both Holmes and Collins for comment on this story. “The moment the tweet was posted nobody was there. The tweet was 100 percent accurate at that point in time. It was not a turnout, her aunt was her only relative [at the party],” Holmes said. “I had two of my personal friends. Her aunt brought three children, and her little sister was there. That was it … there was definitely not 12 people there.” The women said they have received well over 300 donated items, but that cash donations ring in at “less than $100.” Holmes has since deleted the original tweet, but when I asked both women if they considered what they did a “scam,” their answer was a resounding “no.” “If they buy me baby stuff and we go take it back for money, that’s what I feel like scamming would actually be,” Collins said. “We are actually going to use this stuff.” Holmes and Collins also said they plan to donate some of the gifts they’ve received to a local women’s shelter.

On Wednesday morning, Holmes broadcast a lengthy Periscope video entitled “The Truth,” attempting to explain the situation. (The video has also since been deleted. “I didn’t handle it the way I should have,” Holmes said of her decision to remove it.) Holmes says she posted the tweet about a half-hour after the party started. After tweeting, a handful of people arrived, bringing the total up to “six or seven.”“When I posted the tweet trying to fuck with my online mutuals,” Holmes says, “I was trying to troll my group chats.” (Which, well, who among us …) She also calls what the two women did “immorally wrong,” but justifies it by explaining that she never asked for gifts or money with the initial tweet, explaining she only tweeted the donation links because people started asking for them. “I didn’t ask for shit,” she says, reemphasizing that all donations are going to Collins and her baby. “We didn’t ask for it to go viral.”

Holmes is technically correct, though at this point, the “I planned a birthday party/cookout/enema for 50 people and nobody showed up” trope is one of the best-known viral clichés — just ask Sad Papaw, the grandfather whose grandchildren didn’t visit; or Sad Grandma, who had no guests at her art exhibition at the library; or any one of these sad kids who didn’t have a single guest at their birthday parties because people are absolutely rotten. Perhaps the only lesson to take away from this is that if you’re going to donate to people based on viral tweets, you might end up sending money to people who are less sad than you assumed. And, I guess, that if you need a quick cash infusion, pretending to be lonely is a good way to get people’s wallets open.

Update, July 27, 2017, at 11 a.m.: This post has been updated to include an interview with Dorthy Holmes and Chelsie Collins.

Was This Viral Depressing Baby Shower Just a Top-notch Scam?