A missing Cody, Wyoming, woman’s family members are at odds over how and whether to use a fundraising website to raise money, but they are all voicing profound grief at news surrounding the woman’s disappearance.
Katie Ferguson went missing about Oct. 7 while her on-and-off boyfriend Adam Aviles Jr. drove her back from Alabama, where her mother lives, to Cody, where she’d been living before this summer. Aviles and the pair’s two young daughters, ages 1 and 4, made it back to Cody, but Ferguson did not.
“We have gone through something very tragic with the loss of Katie,” said Angela Ferguson, Katie’s stepmother, in an audio statement sent Monday to Cowboy State Daily.
“Any money requested through GuFundMe’s or whatnot, those may not go to where you think they’re going to go and may not always be that helpful in our care of Katie’s kids, and it may not even go toward the funeral costs,” said Angela Ferguson. “So just be wary of those.”
The stepmother said the two little girls’ monetary needs are “taken care of” right now.
“As time goes on and we figure out who is going to get the children, who’s going to have custody – if we do get funds to help this tragic event, then I would hope that it would go towards funeral costs and back to the children,” she added.
The statement condemns the formation of a GoFundMe effort by other family members, warning the public that such pages may not send the money where people expect.
Katie’s brother Alen Ferguson organized a GoFundMe page last week requesting money to search for Katie, care for her babies and help situate Katie’s mother Mona Hartling to care for the little girls. The page had raised $1,212 of a $20,000 goal as of Monday.
Alen Ferguson countered his stepmother’s statement in a Monday message to Cowboy State Daily.
“Katie lived with me and my mother,” wrote Alen. “They are mad because I wouldn’t give them control of the fund. Every cent is going to those babies and the search for Katie … if anything, they are hurting the chances of us bringing Katie home.”
Alen wrote that he has been trying “to appease everyone” and hopes his family can come together to bring Katie home and take care of her daughters.
Like his stepmother, Alen’s other sister Nicole appears to be in disagreement with him on the GoFundMe.
Nicole Ferguson wrote Sunday on her Facebook page, saying the GoFundMe proceeds would not be used in a search for Katie and that its formation made her “beyond angry and very sad!”
She called the GoFundMe “exploitation.”
Angela’s statement indicates the young woman may be deceased, with her mentions of Katie’s “loss” and funeral costs. Angela wrote in a separate post to her Facebook page that a team of professionals is searching for Katie.
"While family is just wanting to go out & find her, resources are limited and independent searches would ... possibly mess up an investigation ... and Would be a waste of resources (that would be) pulled from the kids," says Angela's post.
Police have not confirmed publicly whether Katie Ferguson has died.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Wyoming, however, filed a public court affidavit Nov. 13 indicating that Ferguson has either died or been injured. The affidavit says Park County Sheriff Darrell Steward and other agents found blood and a bullet hole in the Dodge Durango she and her ex-boyfriend were in just before they arrested Aviles Jr. as he approached the vehicle in rural Park County with a gas can in hand.
Angela Ferguson said the family was hurt to learn of the blood and bullet hole via Cowboy State Daily rather than through police.
“It was pretty offensive the way they put out that information, especially since that information went out into the news before it was told the family,” she said in her statement. “It just wasn’t right.”
‘Respect That Privacy’
Katie’s siblings and the rest of her family are devastated, Angela Ferguson said in her statement.
“It takes all our strength to just get through what we’re going through, and we don’t have strength to filter what we say sometimes,” said Angela. “So, I ask that you give us a little bit of grace as we talk to people, as we cry on your shoulder, as we tell you personal stuff and personal feelings. I hope you respect that privacy.”
Ferguson said she hopes no one adds “to any stories” or tries to take advantage of the tragedy.
Somewhere Around Texas
Different police officers interacted with Aviles Jr. at different times and places on the family’s trip home. Sometime between Oct. 5 and Oct. 9, Katie Ferguson stopped appearing in bodycam recordings of those interactions.
Police bodycam footage from Oct. 5 in Arkansas depicts Ferguson still in Aviles Jr.’s Dodge Durango.
Footage from Oct. 9 shows Aviles in the vehicle with the two girls, but no Katie.
The footage also captured a bullet hole covered over with duct tape piercing the passenger-side door in the Durango and a heap of clothing covering the front passenger seat, according to court documents.
Someone would later remove that front passenger seat, strip portions of the vehicle trim off and stuff the trim into trash bags in the back of the vehicle.
Investigators found the trash bags, cleaning supplies, various tools, blood-stained clothing and .45-caliber Glock ammunition in a loaded magazine during their search of the Durango, according to the affidavit.
Federal authorities charged Aviles Jr. with being a felon in possession of ammunition since he has a prior felony of heroin possession.
If he’s convicted for possessing ammunition, Aviles Jr. could face 15 years in prison. He remains in federal custody.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.