Sometime on Monday, a GoFundMe account was set up for the family of Domenic Morse, a former University of Vermont student who was found dead in the fall.
The fundraiser — which has raised $3,071 — was organized by Morse’s roommates, who asked for donations to cover the remainder of Morse’s rent. It claimed his parents were still obligated to pay his $400-a-month rent until May.
The account quickly circulated on social media, drawing donations and concern from community members that Morse’s parents were still on the hook for rent payments, even after his death. The landlord of the property, Robert Foley, began receiving vitriolic emails.
But according to Foley and Morse’s mother, this is all a misunderstanding. No one is being held liable for the remainder of Morse’s rental agreement.
Eva Mazura is one of the roommates who created the GoFundMe page. When reached Monday evening by VTDigger, she said the property manager for the home, Justin Harris, had reached out to the housemates to explain how the remainder of Morse’s rent would be covered after he died.
According to Mazura, Harris said Morse’s rent would be cut in half, to $400, and asked if they could find someone to sublet for the time remaining on the lease. She said there was no explicit request that the roommates pick up Morse’s portion of the rent, but Mazura thought that, if a subletter couldn’t be found, either the roommates or Morse’s parents would need to continue paying.
Mazura said she also spoke with Morse’s mother, Christine Morse, who asked her if a subletter could be found or if the other roommates could help with Domenic Morse’s rent.
“It didn’t really feel like that’s a thing that we should be doing,” Mazura said. “We’re all college students. And we don’t really have that much money to pay an extra $400 a month.”
That prompted the GoFundMe, unknown to Foley or Christine Morse.
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“Hey all, we’re Domenic Morse’s former housemates and close friends looking to support Domenic’s parents with paying his rent since his passing,” the fundraiser states. “Domenic was best known for being an incredibly kind soul to everyone he knew and always received great joy in helping others. In the spirit of giving back, we are asking you to help us cover Domenic’s rent. … Our landlord was kind enough to reduce the cost of Domenic’s rent but his parents are still responsible for paying $400/month until May.”
Morse, 20, died by suicide in November. He went missing Nov. 5 and his body was found Nov. 12 in a wooded area in Burlington, according to a police report.
Harris said when the roommates told him of Morse’s death, he told them Foley had agreed to halve his rent to make it easier to find a subletter for the remainder of the lease. They were to pick up the conversation in January to discuss whether a subletter could be found. He said that was also communicated to Christine Morse.
“I did my best to convey that legally, yes, they are on the hook. But the owners are understanding,” Harris said. “It was kind of a stepping stone, like, hey, this is what we’ll do to start moving forward; let’s see how you guys do.”
Harris said the roommates were never explicitly told they wouldn’t be responsible for Morse’s portion of the lease.
“The difficult part is that it was open-ended. So, there was no period at the end of the sentence,” Harris said. “So that’s what the biggest issue was.”
Foley, a real estate agent who owns 17 properties in Burlington, said he will not accept any money from Morse’s parents or his roommates for the remainder of the rental agreement. He chalks up the confusion to a misunderstanding.
Mazura agreed that communication was unclear. Through Harris, Foley said the roommates were encouraged to reach out to him if they couldn’t find a subletter or didn’t have the ability to pick up Morse’s rent.
“And I think at this point, probably the only fair thing to do — because we didn’t know that they were asking Domenic’s parents to chip in — is to say just forget it,” Foley said. “And donate the money collected already on your GoFundMe page to charity or Domenic’s family.”
Still, because of the fundraiser, some people thought Foley was requiring Morse’s family to pay rent, even after their son’s death. He said he received emails calling him a “monster” and telling him to “rot in hell.”
Christine Morse adamantly defended Foley and said he was the “perfect gentleman” throughout their conversations about what to do. She said it’s unacceptable that people have gone after Foley. She also said she didn’t ask her son’s roommates to pitch in to cover the remaining rent.
“They were all so traumatized,” Christine Morse said of the roommates, “as we are, as well, that so much has gotten misconstrued.”
Christine Morse said she doesn’t want to accept any of the GoFundMe money. She wants the money to be refunded, or ask the donors about giving the money to a suicide prevention organization. But she said nothing has been confirmed yet.
She said the donations were part of an outpouring of support from Burlington residents after her son died.
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“This community is filled with love,” Morse said. “And we are exceptionally grateful for that. We have gotten nothing but love from every single person we have come in contact with, every phone call; we’ve received text messages, pictures. Just a loving community. I’m very grateful that Domenic was a part of that.”