CHESAPEAKE -- "We thought they had a little bit of compassion in the beginning, but once they got the documents they needed -- which was mainly the death certificate -- they were relentless. They didn't care. It wasn't their problem. It was our problem," Angela Smith told 13News.
In 2008, someone shot and killed her son, Donte Newsome in Huntington, West Virginia.
Newsome played high school football at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach then Deep Creek High School in Chesapeake before playing college ball at Marshall University. He went on to play Arena Football in Huntington, then in Texas.
Weeks after his killing, Smith said she started getting calls from The First Marblehead Corporation, which held the private student loans Newsome had taken. Although he had been on a scholarship at Marshall, he changed his major which required him to stay longer than 4 years.
While federal loans are forgiven when a borrower dies, private lenders have discretion as to how to handle the situation.
"Be aware, you know, ask these questions. I mean, as crazy as they sound, ask: If my child should die...?If my child were unable to pay this loan...? you know, ask those questions. I mean, it should be clear. It should be in black and white as big as the other print, but it's not," Smith said. "These companies don't tell you that if you're child should die, you're responsible for that loan. They talk about everything else when they're trying to get you to sign on the dotted lines but not that. They don't tell you that."
Smith asked that The First Marblehead Corporation forgive the loan, but has not been successful. She started a petition on www.change.org in order to gain support for effort. By late February 4, more than 140,000 people signed the petition.
"I want others to be aware that this happens, you know. We don't think our children are gonna die. We don't think our children are gonna be hurt. I mean, it's just not in the plan. It's just not in the plan," stated Smith. "If something should happen, you're responsible for that loan, and these companies have the option to forgive or not."
Gary Santo, Jr., a spokesman for The First Marblehead Corporation wrote to 13News: “First and foremost, we are saddened by the death of Mr. Newsome and extend our condolences to Mrs. Smith and the rest of their family. Due to federal privacy laws, we are precluded from commenting on any borrower’s situation without that borrower’s permission.”