The Napa mother who pushed her son to national fame for having paid off his elementary classmates’ lunch debt made up much of the initial story, investigators say.
Kylie Jean Kirkpatrick, 43, told the Register and other media outlets in 2019 that her son, then 9, paid $78.80 from his own savings to the Napa Valley Unified School District Food Services Department to pay off the outstanding lunch debt of his classmates at West Park Elementary.
Instead, according to court documents, the money was raised from others, using GoFundMe and Venmo crowdfunding accounts, which raised about $150.
Kylie Kirkpatrick was arrested Thursday on multiple counts of theft tied to "lunch shaming" fundraising.
“After making the payment, Kirkpatrick created a false narrative that her 9-year-old son had used his savings money to pay for the debt,” Napa Police investigator Darlene Elia said in a statement asking for a search warrant at Kirkpatrick’s home. “Kirkpatrick actively sought out the media via email by sending them pictures of her son holding the payment receipt and providing the information for the false story.”
Kirkpatrick was arrested in March, shortly before the shelter-at-home orders related to coronavirus, and charged with seven felonies, including six for grand theft and one for welfare fraud, and 13 misdemeanors, 12 for theft and one for defrauding an innkeeper. She has pleaded not guilty and no trial date has been set.
Kirkpatrick did not respond to an emailed request for comment this week.
The story of the child’s supposed generosity spread nationally and led to widespread media attention, appearances on television, gifts and donations to the family, and tickets to sporting events including the Super Bowl.
“Kirkpatrick kept the money and did not donate it towards additional food accounts … All of these gifts were given based on the false narrative of the donation being from her son’s savings,” Elia wrote in the court filing, submitted while the courts were closed due to coronavirus. It only became available for review when the courts reopened this month.
Gov. Gavin Newsom mentioned the boy’s efforts when he signed a law banning the practice of “lunch shaming,” or refusing service to students with an unpaid debt.
Both the NVUSD and West Park Elementary already banned lunch shaming even before the law and Kirkpatrick’s payment. School officials and parents, however, say many people interpreted the news stories to suggest that Kirkpatrick’s son had witnessed lunch shaming at the school, leading to widespread criticism and threats online.
Elia says that Kirkpatrick used her newfound fame to claim she was raising money to end lunch shaming nationwide, but never put the donations toward the cause.
“Kirkpatrick solicited several different companies to donate food items, drinks or money towards charitable organizations that did not exist,” she wrote. “She created a website in her son’s name and solicited donations through the site to pay for school lunch debt.”
The total loss was in excess of $10,000, Elia wrote.
After the initial story about the supposed donation appeared in June of 2019, several people sent the Register screen shots of Kirkpatrick’s GoFundMe account. Kirkpatrick, however, repeatedly denied that the money for the initial payment had come from that account, and insisted that the money had come from her son’s savings account. She said that the GoFundMe was part of an effort to pay off more lunch debt at West Park but the effort “never went anywhere.”
She did, however, give conflicting accounts of what happened to the money she did raise, telling the Register variously that she donated it to families in need and donated it to her son’s former teachers in younger grades.
The Register was able to confirm that the school had received a $78.80 payment, but was never able to determine whether it had come from the child or not.
After a police investigation lasting several months, Elia says the boy did not have a savings account of his own.
Kirkpatrick has a contentious history in Napa County. Court records show a pattern of disputes with family, former friends, and fellow parents at West Park. There are numerous cases where she either filed for a restraining order, saying someone was harassing her, or others filed for restraining orders against her, again alleging harassment.
The mother of a Napa boy celebrated for doing a good deed is being attacked with allegations of dishonesty.
So prolific was she at filing court cases that in late 2019, a county judge declared her a “vexatious litigant,” meaning she could only file lawsuits with the explicit permission of the presiding judge.
Kirkpatrick attracted unflattering coverage in December, when Massachusetts blogger Aiden Kearney, who writes under the name Turtleboy, learned of her story. In a series of lengthy blog posts, he accused her of lying about the initial payment and profiting from the outpouring of generosity the news coverage generated. He also detailed her troubled personal history and fraught conflicts with family and fellow parents.
You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or email@example.com.
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