Goshen girl takes on calf project as final wish

In this file photo from July, Mari Edmiston, right, smiles with her daughter. The two were featured in a Goshen News story where Edmiston claimed the girl was terminally ill while still raising a calf for the 2019 Elkhart County 4-H Fair. Edmiston is now charged with attempted theft following a police investigation.

GOSHEN — For months, a Goshen mother claimed her daughter was dying as a result of multiple illnesses, convincing not only the girl, but donors who opened their wallets to help the youth during the 2019 Elkhart County 4-H Fair. Now, the woman is accused of faking the illness while trying to collect the donated funds.

Marianne Edmiston, 37, was charged Wednesday with a Level 6 felony count of attempted theft. A warrant was also issued for her arrest.

Edmiston allegedly told a story that her daughter, who was 13 years old at the time, was terminally ill and, with her remaining time, wanted to show a calf during the fair last July. The auction of the calf and donations amounted to more than $20,700. The money was intended to help cover the girl’s medical expenses, according to details in the probable cause affidavit in the case.

The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Edmiston about a month later. Department of Child Services staff had reported she tried to receive funds from the fair “under false pretenses” by giving the impression her daughter was terminally ill and needed money for care, the document shows.

The girl told a detective she found out recently she’s not terminally ill, but Edmiston convinced her she was for about one or two years, according to the affidavit.

The girl had joined the Elkhart County Dairy Feeder Calf Club to raise a calf for the fair as a final wish. Tim Stutsman, the club’s assistant leader, told a detective when he learned about the girl she was wearing a surgical mask and her head had been shaved. Stutsman said Edmiston told him her daughter had a terminal condition with less than a year to live, according to the affidavit.

“Edmiston reportedly told Stutsman that the family doesn’t like to talk about the specific disease, but that they ‘knew what the end was going to look like,’” police state in the affidavit.

Edmiston also allegedly described to Stutsman the girl had multiple diseases, she was starting to experience organ failure, and her heart had fallen out of its aortic cavity. In other communications, she said the girl had kidney, heart, lung, liver, eye and skin afflictions, the affidavit shows.

“‘We’re not even sure if she’ll make it til the Fair,’” the affidavit quotes Edmiston telling Stutsman.

Stutsman, believing the girl’s condition was dire, began working to raise money to help the family.

He created a Facebook group June 24 to raise awareness about the girl and her desire to show a calf at the fair. Posts on the public group’s page show Stutsman intended to collect donations to purchase her calf at auction, and then return the calf and provide the family with the money to help with medical expenses. The group still had 79 members as of Wednesday, according to the page.

Stutsman also contacted The Goshen News in late June with a pitch to do a story about the girl. He noted in an email he was working to put together a buyers group to lead the fundraising effort.

The News published a story July 13, about a week before the annual fair started, featuring interviews with Edmiston and the girl.

According to Edmiston, her daughter had multiple autoimmune diseases. The story recounts assertions that the girl was diagnosed with illnesses shortly after she turned 8. Those illnesses were said to have caused her thyroid, immune system, organs and other bodily functions to fail. The girl was also said to have been taken off an organ donor list and was deemed terminal following months of medical tests.

Despite the fatalistic account of her condition, Edmiston described her daughter as still active, energetic and animated as well. The vitality was framed as the girl’s determination to savor life with a positive attitude as she continued working outdoors on her fair project.

“When you see kids who are terminal, they often look frail and sick. They’re defeated. Zoey isn’t that,” Edmiston is quoted as saying in the story.

The story also shows friends and neighbors purchased two calves for the girl and provided barn and pasture space for the animals.

“If the charge against Edmiston is factual, The Goshen News and other local media outlets, as well as the good and trusting people involved with the Elkhart County 4-H Dairy Feeder Calf Club, have been taken advantage of in an extraordinary way,” said Goshen News Editor Roger Schneider.

WSBT-TV also produced a story about the girl during the fair, as well as follow-ups about the calf’s auction.

The buyers group, made up of people and companies, raised $20,737 to donate to the girl via the auction, the affidavit shows.

The money apparently never made it to Edmiston.

Robert Kelly, director of the Purdue Extension in Elkhart County, told a detective the fair staff didn’t send Edmiston the check due to concerns about her. She had called about the money and had asked for a portion of it after the fair ended, according to Kelly in the affidavit.

He had no further comment for The News.

“Because it’s a pending legal matter, I’m not in a position to comment on that,” Kelly said.

The investigation found the girl does have an illness — Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid — but it’s not fatal or terminal. Edmiston allegedly handled all of the girl’s medical appointments, the affidavit shows.

Edmiston also apparently tried to raise money two and a half years ago on claims of needing help with medical bills for the girl’s health issues.

In a Facebook post from July 2017, a fundraiser was created with a description that the girl has trisomy 21, which flared up two years prior and attacked her kidneys. Trisomy 21 is more commonly known as Down syndrome.

The post continues with a description that the girl no longer had a thyroid due to Hashimoto’s, was being followed by an endocrinologist at Riley Hospital for Children and was being followed by a neurologist due to a reaction to a thyroid medication, which caused a brain condition that affects optic nerves.

The post shows no money was raised during that fundraiser.

The attempted theft charge against Edmiston was filed in Elkhart County Superior Court 6, and a warrant was issued.

The affidavit cites the Indiana code that defines theft, which includes creating a false impression or failing to correct a false impression while taking “unauthorized control” of property. The charge was filed as felony due to the money that was raised being between $750 and $50,000.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240316. Follow her on Twitter at @aambrose_TGN.

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