Donations pour in to aid Pittsfield military family who lost son in Minnesota car crash
PITTSFIELD -- When Robin Burnell's phone rang in the wee hours of the morning on Feb. 28, she let the call go to voice mail, assuming it was just a snow-day notice from her work, Crosby Elementary School.
Burnell immediately returned the urgent message left by a Minnesota State Police officer. The call was what she had feared: Her 22-year-old son, Jared M. Burnell, had died in a car crash on the way home from Washington state, just two days after general discharge under honorable conditions as an intel analyst with the U.S. Army.
The Burnell family had no way to pay for the $3,000 to transport Jared's body back, let alone the $10,000 funeral expense. The military would not pay to transport his son's body back or for a military funeral.
That's when Berkshire residents and organizations from throughout the state stepped up to help the family with enough support -- financially and emotionally -- to get Jared to his final resting place in Pittsfield Cemetery last week.
The Burnells have received $4,261. Of that, $761 and counting came from Berkshire residents, some of whom the Burnells didn't even know.
"My fellow citizens and friends and organizations are here who didn't even know him to support me and him," Robin Burnell said, "and his government turned their back on him -- that's how I feel."
The dozens of sympathy cards that some of the money has come stuffed in line shelves in the Burnells' living room on West Street.
Crosby Elementary School, where Burnell is a preschool paraprofessional, contributed $260.
"I've been working with Robin for 15 years, and it's helping out a friend in need," said Cindy Cobb, another preschool paraprofessional at Crosby. "We want to donate more money for her to go to a spa and have a relaxing spa treatment."
The Burnells said that the money donated to the family will fund a trip to the crash site in Minnesota, where the family will plant a tree in Jared's honor.
Harry's Supermarket also donated a full turkey dinner to the family.
The Burnells were assigned Maj. James Maloney, a military liaison from Upton, to assist the family after they received the news.
Using his connections, Maloney acquired $1,500 from the Jeff Coombs Foundation and $2,000 from the Military Friends Foundation. The money was used to give Jared a proper military funeral, complete with a color guard and a bugle player to play taps.
"A lot of people pulled together," Maloney said.
Maloney could have left the Burnell family's situation since the military was not going to pay for the funeral. But since the family was struggling to get a dead relative back home, it "wasn't the right thing to do," Maloney said.
"It was unfortunate he was traveling home and never got to see his mom," he said. "[The military] had to draw a firm line, and they drew it the day he was discharged."
The money raised did not cover the entire amount to bring Jared back to Pittsfield and give him the proper military burial, according to the Burnells.
Veterans Services for the City of Pittsfield can give $2,000 to defray the costs for the family, but only if the bill does not exceed $3,000, according to Rosanne Frieri, president of Veterans Services. It was unknown how much is left on the funeral expenses.
Frieri was stuck in Boston due to snow and couldn't be in Pittsfield to help out the family, but Maloney's efforts did plenty, she said.
"I didn't want the family to endure any more pain," Frieri said. "It's a loss for the community. It seems like he was going to do great things. I think the Army should have worked harder to return him home to the city of Pittsfield."
And now, the Burnells are willing to help out the community members that were so diligent in helping her out.
"I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart," Burnell said. "If they ever need anything, I'm always here."
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