There are times when, as a journalist, I see a side of humanity I wish didn’t exist. We all see it, it’s just I get a front row seat with a slightly different angle.
The perfect example is this story.
Imagine you had a family member or a close friend commit suicide. Then, you have that one friend that comes and gives you comfort. That friend is there for you, helping with meals, helping with transportation or whatever is needed.
Then, your friend tells you about a group they have, one that wants to go out to local high school, high traffic intersections, and other places to “take a stand” against suicide and to show that they are there for those in need.
This same person then tells you that they are going to start a support group to raise awareness. All they need is to raise the funds. While they are on street corners and intersections, they sell water. Then, they offer you a t-shirt…a shirt with the names of people who have taken their own lives.
Sounds like a great idea, so you order one or two of the shirts.
You wait. You wait, and wait, and wait. Maybe you were one of the lucky one who received the t-shirt you ordered.
Or, maybe you are part of the larger group that didn’t receive anything but broken promises. Excuses like, “I sent it, but the Postal Annex I use doesn’t give you tracking numbers.”
Maybe you were told that “I don’t know what happened, I’m seeing that it was left at your home.”
Maybe you are like Mary. Mary ordered a few of the t-shirts but never received anything.
“Amanda told me, she promised me them t-shirts were on the way,” said Mary. “When I was being told that she would send it out again, she gave me a tracking number that was for FedEx. But FedEx told me that it wasn’t a real tracking number. After I asked Amanda, she blocked me.”
For full disclosure, Amanda Bratten, who goes by the name of Amanda Nicole, and I were connected on Facebook.
When I first heard about the issue with t-shirts being ordered and not delivered, it was from Amanda.
However, it was shared with me in such a way that she alleged that she was being harassed by people who didn’t like what she was doing – the selling of t-shirts with the names of individuals who committed suicide.
I was also told that she had in fact shipped items, but the Postal Annex does not provide anyone with tracking numbers.
As I began to dive deeper and deeper into this story, I began to see the hurt, the betrayal, that many family members have suffered. Some are from El Paso, others from varied points around the world; however they all share similar stories.
To be clear: an unknown number shirts have been delivered, but those stories are few and far between. Some who have received shirts said that they got the wrong order, partial order, or a shirt that wasn’t exactly what was promised.
Amanda has been given ample time to respond directly to the allegations – nearly two weeks – and those responses are included below.
Also, many of the people you’re going to hear from have asked us not to use their real names.
They all allege that Amanda, and others, have taken to harassing them, via phone calls to their places of employment, their homes, via emails and social media messages. (Editor’s note: Screenshots of some of the conversations are shared at the end of this article)
“The money and shirts are nothing compared to the sickness everyone feels over this,” said Mel, from New Zealand.
Mel shared a story that is all too common among those who purchased t-shirts. “She made me out to be a bully,” said Mel, “for asking if she had received my address.”
“I kept sending her message after message,” says April (not her real name). “She simply stopped responding. Then, she called my place of employment and told my boss that I am harassing her. All I wanted was the t-shirts I paid for or my money back.”
“I contacted Amanda about ordering shirts from her,” says Becky. “I asked her to add my son to the shirt.”
Becky wanted five shirts and one sweatshirt for a total cost of $88.00. Becky made two payments, which Amanda acknowledged. The t-shirts would be coming by December 1st , 2018.
“On November 27th I sent her [Amanda] a message via Messenger and asked if she mailed out my shirts, she said she had a procedure done on the 28th which is why she had not responded to me,” says Becky. “She managed to confirm my sizes and address.”
It was after that conversation that Becky says more excuses began to pour in. She couldn’t track Becky’s package because she was off to her husband’s Military Ball. That she had to look for a tracking number and couldn’t find it.
“Amanda has given me the runaround with my shirt order,” says Regina. “I placed an order for eleven shirts on September 22, 2018, and paid in full the amount of $120.00.”
Regina tells me she has yet to receive one t-shirt. When she would contact Amanda about when, and if they were shipped, she says she would receive a different answer each time.
“Amanda would say they are being mailed at the end of the week, going out tomorrow, or being mailed,” said Regina. “When I would ask for a tracking number she would ignore my messages.”
“I ordered several shirts for Christmas presents as well,” says Diane. “I’m very disappointed that I trusted someone who I feel has let so many people across the world down. She used our time; we are grieving the loss of our loved ones.”
Diane wanted the shirts or her money back. When she reached out to Amanda, asking if she has sent the shirts, or has even been receiving her messages, Amanda responded by saying that she was receiving so many messages, and must not be getting them all.
Amanda also allegedly said that her shirts would ship and asked if she had already received the correct sizes and shipping address.
In the end, all of them allege the same thing: no t-shirts.
“My story is this,” says Tanya [not her real name]. “I had a brother who committed suicide last year. I liked the idea of her Stands as she called them where she would stand around schools and tell people suicide [sic] is not the answer for anything in your life. I thought the t-shirts were a great way to share the messages we were trying to get out.”
Tanya contributed to the GoFundMe account after being told the t-shirts would be crowdfunded and then provided to family members for free.
In the end, Tanya had to pay for a hoodie and t-shirt which never arrived.
When Amanda first came to me, she presented Johnson M. [not his real name] as a bully, as someone who was harassing her. I reached out to him and his place of employment.
I didn’t know it was going to lead to this.
“When I started to ask her about the shirts, she ignored me,” says Johnson.
“When she would reply, she was always telling us she was getting harassed or bullied. After months of this, I had enough and told her just get peoples shirts out to them or have someone else send them out.”
As seems to be the trend, when Johnson asked the shirts just to be sent, he says Amanda went on the offensive.
“She told everyone I attacked her and bullied her. However, she attacked me on a personal level. She went after my job, my way of feeding my family.”
“Grief is a very difficult journey,” said Diane. “When Amanda offered to create these shirts and t-shirts, it was touching. I feel awareness is critical to prevent future suicides. As difficult as this has been since I lost my son July 10, 2017, I thought the design she put together with all our loved one’s names was very special.”
Ashley Anderson is the administrator of Suicide Survivors Loss and Support on Facebook.
“When it first came about it was probably around the beginning of September end of August of 2018,” Ashley said. “We had talked about it prior, and I had talked to her quite a bit actually.”
According to her, Amanda has posted a couple of shirt design ideas to the group saying that if you were to provide her the name of a lost loved one, it would be included on the shirt.
“I was okay with it at first because honestly, we’ve never sold anything in the group. So, the second this was mentioned,” says Ms Anderson, “it was amazing.”
So many people were ordering shirts. According to a screenshot, Amanda has sold about 700 of them. From what I’ve seen, the basic cost of a shirt was around $8. If everyone paid, then $5,600 went towards Amanda for the shirts.
“I had talked to her, in private messaging, saying ‘wow, this is a lot of names, are you sure you’ll be able to handle this?’” Ashley shares. “She was like ‘my husband is helping me with it, let’s get all these names.’”
That’s how it all started, and the names began coming in. After a couple of weeks, a the design was shared, and everyone waited.
I did want to present Amanda’s side of all of this; so I sent her the following e-mail several times, as well as via Facebook Messenger:
In working the story about the tee-shirts I’ve come across some issues, I would like you to respond to.
These seem to be a common thread among people I’ve spoken to that needs to be addressed.
1. How many tee-shirts were ordered?
2. How many tee-shirts were shipped?
3. How many refunds have been issued?
I am in possession of screenshots from several people. These screenshots show that they have repeatedly asked when their tee-shirts were going to be shipped.
My next question concerns the GoFundMe.
I am being told that the GoFundMe was to be used for funding the tee-shirts; thus the name “Stand Against Suicide Apparell [sic].” What was that money used for? I am showing that over $2,000 was raised in that campaign.
Amanda’s responses were very strange. First, in a Facebook message, Amanda said:
“And…we used the Santa Teresa Annex post office. They don’t keep track of tracking the same as the regular post office. It’s not at all electronic over there.”
The fact that she said that she visited the Santa Teresa Postal Annex gave me reason to call them up. I also decided to reach out to the United States Post Office, as well as the closest Postal Annex, a private company.
According to Brian, an employee with the Postal Annex, they do in fact issue tracking numbers for mail send via the United States Postal Service.
“We mailout through the post office and UPS,” said Brian. “We can do it certified, priority mail. Those give you tracking number.”
I also spoke to Rod Spurgeon of the United States Post Office.
“Anybody who does business with the US Postal service, and uses a trackable means, it doesn’t matter where they do it, they can go online or at a post office, will have access to that tracking number on our website,” said Spurgeon.
“Every post office offers the same services, regardless of its location.”
I did follow through with several emails, over the span of several days, to Amanda, in which she made the following comments:
Her first response was, “I’ve tried to text you with copies of the receipts. I’ve also tried to message you on Facebook, but now I’m blocked. What’s going on?”
When I received that email, I did check both my phone and Facebook Messenger. I’ve not blocked her, nor had I received any receipts at that point.
The second email followed the tone of the first:
“What’s going on? Why are you suddenly against me? I don’t understand at all what’s going on. I tried to let you know I was out of surgery. And then I tried to message you. Why did you block me?”
As to her surgery, I know of one time Amanda was in the hospital. However, people I spoke with said she uses alleged hospital stays to stall people who are looking for their tee-shirt orders to arrive. Again, reviewing the screenshots below, you will see this theme time and again.
Her final response to me?
“Are you seriously no longer speaking to me? I thought we were friends. And here’s some of the receipts. Do the math; I’ve had to pay for a large portion out of my pocket. Shirts were sent out. I seriously thought you were my friend, Steven. I never stole or cheated anyone!! Ever! I made the error of not getting them out of my house fast enough. But I also had pneumonia, recent MULTIPLE back surgeries, and a lot of other things going on. I paid for the shirts. I sent the shirts. Wow.”
“This is your story now? You’re going to make me out to be a bad guy? When there were people NOT EVEN INVOLVED that have non stop [sic] been harassing me. And it’s just like that. You automatically believe them. You didn’t even ask me for anything before I was blocked.”
However, in that final email, I was sent two (2) screenshots from Quicken. These screenshots are to prove that t-shirts were paid for and sent.
I remained skeptical, so I reached out to an accountant I have used before in articles that involve finances.
“What you were sent is bupkis,” says accountant Yitzhak Greenberg. “I have a child, you know, Adam, he’s nine, he can make you better proof than what this tries to be. These things [he says, referring to the two quicken screenshots] have nothing of value as for showing of proof. Who was it paid to? Who billed her? How was it paid?”
“Why is she not sending to you the actual receipts of things?
Would this not prove her case?
The pictures of the receipt from printers, for posting these out?
As of the publication of this story, none of the people mentioned have received shirts. Nor have I received any answers to my repeated questions about the quantity of shirts, the number delivered and refunds given.
In the end, it would seem that the simple act of getting a shirt has added to the grief these people have suffered. Many of them have had their wounds reopened because of this.
Trust has been destroyed and will be hard for some to rebuild. Yet they shared their story in hopes that somehow, in some way, they will see justice done.
To that end, many of them have begun filing theft reports with the El Paso Police Department.
Law enforcement officials I spoke with said anyone who ordered t-shirts, hoodies, or any items from Amanda and have not received them, are encouraged to reach out the El Paso Police Department.
If you live in the United States, you can file your report online. If you live outside of you the United States, you will need to call to file your report. The number to call is 915-832-4436.
Below are screenshots of communication between Amanda and various persons who ordered shirts and then did not receive them.
Screenshots With Amanda Nicole by on Scribd