Controversy arises over fashion show designed to help child battling cancer
Event designed to raise money for family of 3-year-old girl battling leukemia
HOUSTON – A Houston area event organizer is at the center of a controversy after a child fashion show never materialized. The event was also designed to raise money for the family of a 3-year-old girl battling leukemia.
Quianna Carpenter, founder of Kids Fashion Parade Houston, reached out to KPRC for help in March. Carpenter said she was planning a kids' fashion show to raise funds for Laekyn Etheridge’s family and the venue where the show was to take place, Hughes Hangar, suddenly closed its doors.
Carpenter appealed to the public for help since her fashion show was scheduled for April 10; leaving little time to find another venue.
"Maybe someone will see or hear our story and they'll look at that beautiful face and they'll want to reach out to help us," Carpenter said during a March 15 interview with KPRC.
Carpenter said her show was aimed at raising awareness about childhood cancer and to raise money for Laekyn Etheridge, who has been battling cancer since 2014.
Laekyn’s mother, Aspen Etheridge, was grateful for the financial assistance.
"It's been hard," said Etheridge. "The gas, the bills, the parking; food when you're in the hospital."
Etheridge said after chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital told her Laekyn’s prognosis was likely terminal.
"I try not to believe the doctors and we're just hoping for a miracle," said Etheridge.
Etheridge said her daughter still needs to go to the hospital regularly for lab work and platelet transfusions. Etheridge said Carpenter told her proceeds from the show would go to help the family with mounting bills.
Shortly after KPRC’s story aired in March, several businesses offered to host the fashion show. Channel 2 Investigates also received an email from a mother who paid $300 to have her daughter compete in the show.
"All I wanted was, not for my kid to be like a big time star, but exposure," said Brittany Cain.
Cain said she first became concerned about the show when she also donated $100 to Laekyn and never received word whether the family received the money.
"I'm glad she exists, because no one had ever seen her," said Cain.
Cain said when she started asking Carpenter specific questions about the fashion show, her daughter was suddenly kicked out, with no refund.
"'Due to you not complying with company rules, your child is no longer going to be a part of my fashion show,'" Cain recalled Carpenter telling her.
Cain's daughter was far from the only child who paid to be part of the fashion show. Carpenter claimed several kids signed up for the event.
"She was very persistent about me doing this," said Stephanie Camp, who also paid a fee to have her daughter participate in the fashion show. "She wanted to take her career and launch it and all that."
While parents were paying for the chance to help launch their children’s modeling careers, Carpenter was promoting the event online as a way to benefit a dying child.
This part of the promotion is what drew the attention of Lajuana Williams, owner of Austin based LCW Designs.
"It was going to benefit this one little girl and all the money and the proceeds was going to go to her medical bills, because it was important for her to get her medical bills out of the way," Williams said Carpenter told her.
"Was there ever any doubt in your mind that this wasn’t going to benefit her?," Williams was asked.
"No, never," Williams said.
Williams agreed to make nearly 30 outfits for the fashion show, free of charge.
"Everybody spent time, energy and money to get this special event prepared for this special child," said Williams.
The chance to help a little girl battling cancer is also what prompted Amber Robinette, owner of the Luxe Event Boutique, to offer her venue free of charge.
"I comped everything, every single thing," said Robinette. "We were going to decorate; ceiling drapes, the canopy, the chair sashes. I mean everything was going to be comped for this child."
The fashion show never happened. Parents showed up with their children the day of the event and found a locked door.
"It's been canceled, we've been taken for our money in vain of Laekyn's name," said Camp.
Two days before the fashion show, Laekyn’s family and other volunteers began to question where the money was going.
In addition to parents paying a contestant fee, sites appeared on-line selling tickets to the show and a website soliciting donations for Laekyn linked to Carpenter’s account.
All of these questions came to head during a separate fundraiser held at the ‘Pump It Up’ business in the Woodlands.
"I honestly knew something wasn't right," said Melissa Bridgman.
Bridgman and her husband own Re-Spin entertainment and said they offered free DJ services for the ‘Pump It Up’ event and the fashion show. Bridgman said there was an argument the night of the ‘Pump It Up’ fundraiser as to how donations should be handled.
"(Carpenter) said her tax attorney advised her that all donations had to go through her for tax purposes," said Bridgman.
Another volunteer, Carissa Dixon, told KPRC she was also concerned about how she said Carpenter wanted to handle the donations.
"I was like, ‘no, that's not going to happen,’" said Dixon. "We weren't going to let that happen."
The owner of ‘Pump It Up’ told KPRC money raised through door fees and credit card donations were given directly to Aspen Etheridge.
Etheridge’s family continued to question where money from the show was going.
"My sister was talking to her and asking where all the money was that was supposed to go to Laekyn and she could never text her back or say where all the money was," Aspen Etheridge said.
The family became so concerned they decided to pull out of the fashion show and asked friends and family not to attend.
"It was just a big mess. I didn't want (Laekyn) to be in all the drama that was going on," said Etheridge.
The owner of the Event Luxe Boutique also said she became concerned when she found out the fashion show was not solely benefiting Laekyn.
"I'm not here to benefit your company, I'm here to donate to this child," Robinette said she told Carpenter.
Robinette said she told Carpenter she could still hold the fashion show at her business if she paid the rental fee.
"'You are more than welcome to rent but it's not complimentary because it's not for Laekyn, it's not a benefit at this point,'" Robinette said she told Carpenter.
Robinette said Carpenter did not pay the rental fee so the fashion show did not take place.
Channel 2 Investigates had more questions for Carpenter after contacting some of the companies listed as sponsors for the fashion show on the Kids Fashion Parade Houston Facebook page.
Planet Lincoln was listed as donating several items for a silent auction. When KPRC spoke with officials at the dealership we were told Carpenter contacted them to inquire about helping with the show, but never followed up with any specific details about the event and therefore they never formally agreed to donate the items.
The Fairy Tale Headquarters was listed as another "officials sponsor." Company officials told KPRC they would have been happy to help, but Carpenter never followed up with them so they never formally agreed to sponsor the show. Company officials also said they were unhappy with their businesses’ picture being listed on the Facebook page without their permission.
Another DJ’s business listed as a sponsor also told KPRC he too would have helped, but never formally agreed to sponsor the event because Carpenter never followed up with any details after an initial contact.
Several days after the fashion show was to take place, a post on the Kids Fashion Parade Houston Facebook read, "Due to a recent scam attempt we will not be donating to any individuals at this time." The post was removed shortly after it was posted.
When KPRC tried to speak with Carpenter about all this we first received a message on Facebook reading it was the family who canceled the event with no explanation. She also wrote some sponsors pulled out because “they felt it was a scam."
During a follow up phone conversation with KPRC, Carpenter said she would refund parents their fee and that the event was never designed to solely benefit Laekyn. Carpenter said only 20 percent of the proceeds were supposed to go to the family. Carpenter then said she would provide more follow up information.
When we did not hear back from Carpenter, KPRC tried to speak with her at her home. As we waited, Carpenter called the Montgomery Sheriff’s Office. A deputy said Carpenter reported suspicious people trying to videotape her property and get in through her front gate.
"It doesn't look like she wants to come out," a deputy told Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
"I think your presence says that," Arnold said.
"Yep, I think so," the deputy said.
Etheridge has filed a report with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, asking for detectives to look into what money was raised for the fashion show on behalf of Laekyn.
Over the weekend KPRC obtained an email that appears to have been sent by Carpenter to some parents. You can view a copy of that email right here.