The family of children left behind after a man shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself expressed gratitude Wednesday for the outpouring of help received. A fundraising effort has raised more than $70,000 in just two days.
"It's just amazing how many people are helping," said Kaitlyn Blendowski. "You see this on the news all the time but never think it will be your loved ones suffering."
Blendowski, 28, of Brandon, is the girlfriend of Taylor Starling, whose sister, Samantha Keithley, was killed.
Sometime near midnight Sunday, authorities say, Samantha Keithley, 33, was shot by her husband, Kirk Keithley, a 39-year-old Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy. He died by suicide in their Land O' Lakes home.
The family had four children. A GoFundMe page created by Keller Williams Realty Lakeland has raised more than $50,000 as of Wednesday morning. Another $24,000 was raised in a company auction in Texas, said Chris McLaughlin, operating principal of Keller Williams Realty Lakeland.
Samantha Keithley had worked with that agency as a realtor since June, McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said he received a call Tuesday from Keller Williams International in Austin, Texas, letting him know that Dianna Kokoszka, an executive with Keller Williams Realty, raised $24,000 in five minutes at a meeting by auctioning off her coaching services to a group of 12.
"I think the outpouring of support and sympathy for these kids has been overwhelming," said McLaughlin. "It is a real testament to our community and to humanity. It is really heartwarming."
McLaughlin said there has been so much interest in the effort that the goal was increased to $60,000 and will likely be revised again. The money, he said, will be used to set up a long-term trust fund for the children, who range in age from 2 to 14.
"We are looking for an attorney to do a trust or foundation to benefit the children," said McLaughlin. "The goal is to establish a longer term trust, with the protection of the assets, so that it will grow into the future."
The GoFundMe effort, at this website, is ongoing, said McLaughlin.
Blendowski, who is serving as a family spokeswoman, said that rapid growth of the donor account is "concrete proof to how loved and respected Samantha was. There is nobody I can think of more undeserving."
The children are "doing okay," said Blendowski.
Keithley's son Mark, 14 "is being hit the hardest right now," she said. "He is holding it together but this is grief that we can not even begin to understand. He is just a boy, a sweet, caring, beautiful boy, and he had to witness something unimaginable. We can't know the pain he is really feeling but he is not suffering alone."
All the children "are blanketed by love and support, and will continue to be," said Blendowski. "They will always be taken care of. They are safe from harm with family, trying to adjust. Like we all are."
Contact Howard Altman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman