For months, a couple told Florida boy he was dying of cancer. It was a lie, police say.
For the last eight months, a 13-year-old boy from Fort Walton Beach, Florida believed he was dying from brain cancer.
That was the story crafted by Ginny Irovando Long, 34, and her husband Robert Edward Long, 47, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office. In May, Ginny Irovando Long told the boy that he had multiple brain tumors and his time was running out, WEAR-TV reported, citing an arrest report.
The boy told the teachers and the school nurse at his middle school that he had cancer, and that he was "not going to live very long," according to WEAR-TV. In November, the Longs set up a T-shirt fundraiser at his school. Nine people bought shirts, believing the money would go toward the boy's medical expenses.
A GoFundMe page created by the Longs raised almost $1,000.
On Facebook, Ginny Irovando Long shared the devastating details about the boy's battle with cancer. One post, written in late December, said "it was a miracle the boy had lived three days past Christmas and the only person that knows when he is supposed to go is God," according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office. Yet the boy in the photograph appeared to be perfectly healthy.
The family's story began to unravel in November when school resource officers raised suspicions that the couple was faking his medical plight for financial gain. A school resource officer told law enforcement officials, who began investigating.
It was all a lie, investigators discovered - the brain cancer, the tumors, the terminal diagnosis.
"His medical records prove no brain tumors exist," the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post, describing the pair's efforts as "a phony yet successful attempt" to gain money.
The Longs were charged with one count of child abuse and nine counts of fraud. The pair was taken into custody last week at their home, according to the sheriff's office.
While authorities did not identify the boy or his relationship to the Longs, WEAR-TV and other news outlets said the couple are his parents.
Speaking to investigators, Ginny Irovando Long said she received a call from a doctor at Houston Children's Hospital in Texas, who said the boy had seven brain tumors, the Tampa Bay Times reported, citing the arrest report. She was told the boy would become a "vegetable" if he underwent surgery, so she decided against it, she told investigators.
But when the authorities asked her for medical records proving the diagnosis, they found that no such records existed.
The boy told investigators Ginny Irovando Long told him he was going to die from brain cancer, according to the sheriff's office. When they asked him about it further, he said he didn't like to talk about it, because it scared him.
The Department of Children and Families has removed the child and another sibling from the home, a spokesperson for the agency told WEAR-TV. The children are in foster care as the investigation continues.
As for the $1,000 raised on the GoFundMe account created by the Longs, all of it will be refunded to the donors, GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said in a statement to The Washington Post, adding that all GoFundMe donors are fully protected by a refund policy. The company has also banned the couple from the crowdfunding site, Whithorne said.
"Campaigns with misuse make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns," Whithorne said. "With that said, there are instances where individuals fabricate a diagnosis and commit fraud."
Indeed, a number of similar crowdfunding frauds have emerged nationwide in recent years.
In August 2016, a woman convinced members of her Oklahoma community to donate thousands of dollars for her critically-ill 4-year-old daughter. The girl supposedly had a slew of medical problems - a tumor removed from her brain as a baby, a lymphoma diagnosis, a nut allergy, cerebral palsy, and more. The woman eventually admitted to Enid police that her tale was entirely a lie. She had fooled her 4-year-old and her three older children - even her husband.
In January of last year, an assistant basketball coach in Texas convinced his middle school students that he had cancer, along with a broken-down car he couldn't afford to fix. Students and parents raised more than $11,000 on GoFundMe for the coach - only to later learn he had lied.