100 Club reverses rules, to help families of four fallen firefighters


They are a group brought together by unspeakable tragedy -- a brother, a sister and mother of two of the firefighters who gave their lives in a southwest Houston motel fire nearly a month ago.

"Matthew and Robert were very close, and it helps me to know they were together, that they weren't alone," said David Renaud, brother of fallen HFD Captain EMT Matthew Renaud.

"At the church when they were loading his casket on to the truck, there were a lot of real moments but that was the hardest to know that this was the final time," said Sabina Bebee, mother of fallen HFD Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee.

Their loss is unimaginable. Their pain, at times, was very public. But their anger, until now, has been held back.

"I've fought many battles for my kids. When they were in school when they were wronged, when my son was wronged, when they stole his bike and I went and got it back," Bebee said. "And just because he's dead, doesn't mean he doesn't have a voice. As long as I'm alive, he's going to have a voice."

They've watched as generous Houstonians responded to the tragedy by pouring donations into the 100 Club. The last three weeks have been the most impressive response in that group's history.

And the 100 Club has already helped the family of an injured firefighter, donating $100,00 just two weeks ago. But these four families haven't received anything, and until rules changed Thursday, they likely never would have.

"I don't think you can repair this. I mean, you deceived so many people," Renaud said.

All four victims were single and had no children. According to their own rules, the 100 Club only pays out to spouses and kids -- at least that was their position when we spoke to Rick Hartley, the group's executive director, on Wednesday.

"I think the money is going to the fallen. It's all in the definition of family. Our family definition is spouse and children," Hartley said.

But late Thursday afternoon, after thousands of you weighed in on our investigation, the 100 Club changed its mind and now says it will determine the needs of the families and help financially within a few weeks.

It's too late for these families.

"You were caught. Morally you knew what's right and do the right thing, not wait for somebody to nudge you and say, 'OK this is not going to look good, let's do the right thing,'" Bebee said.

The families feel the group's been misleading by raising money, or at least allowing it to be raised, in the name of their fallen loved ones while the 100 Club knew all along it was never going to be given to them.

"They deceived us," Renaud said.

The criticism from families isn't all the 100 Club is facing. The Better Business Bureau is asking questions too.

"They are BBB accredited, but they're under review," said Jayne Anne Ammar with the BBB.

After reviewing our investigation and material from the 100 Club, the BBB is asking questions about potentially misleading donation drives.

"I'm very concerned about the nature of how they're presenting their plea for donations, based on the fact that it will benefit the victims," Ammar said.

We called the 100 Club to get more details on their plan, to see why they changed their mind and what they would think of the families' reaction or the Better Business Bureau review. We left two messages before the office closed but haven't heard back.

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