As soon as the First National Bank of River Falls opened for business Thursday morning, they came: Children who emptied the change from their banks, senior citizens who reached in their wallets for a $20 bill and countless others who wrote checks.
A steady stream of people walked into the bank Thursday, searching for a way to reach out to the family of three young River Falls girls killed earlier this week. Aaron Schaffhausen is charged with killing his daughters, Amara, 11, Sophie, 8 and Cecilia, 5.
By the end of the day, the bank had collected more than $30,000. Collection jars in town also are filling up, while more than 1,700 people have joined a special Facebook page to pay their respects to the young girls and send a virtual embrace to their grief-stricken mother, Jessica Schaffhausen.
"We live in a very close-knit, tight community," said Jeff Johnson, president of First National Bank of River Falls. "People look out for each other here. People here rally behind one another when things go wrong. Everybody looks out for each other."
He said the bank has been flooded by calls and every five to 10 minutes someone walks in to make a deposit in the Schaffhausen fund. The donations have ranged from 75 cents to hundreds of dollars.
News of the horrifying deaths also drew donations from as far as Texas, Johnson said. "They've read about it on the Internet and they feel so sad for the three little girls and their mother," he said.
On Wednesday, a Hudson restaurant owner quickly collected more than $30,000. Hundreds of people streamed into a River Falls park later that day for a vigil in memory of the girls. They left $646.94 behind in a donation jar.
Johnson said the contributions likely will continue to pour in on Friday and Saturday -- the bank's busiest days.
On Thursday, a written statement from Jessica Schaffhausen expressed appreciation for the "outpouring of support and love shown to honor the girls' memory." She said the family has approved the memorial fund at the bank and the selling of bracelets by a girls' soccer team, but discouraged any other sales of T-shirts and memorabilia or fundraising websites.
"When the time is right, the family will use the generosity and support to honor and memorialize the girls in the best way possible," her written statement said.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788