Adoptive mother of Kenneth White’s sisters asks Kenneth’s Army to stop using his name

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer   

Claire Ansbro-Ingalls, treasurer and founding member of Kenneth’s Army, speaks to the Knox Town Board about the organization’s mission.

HILLTOWNS — Since 5-year-old Kenneth White was killed at his home in Knox by his 19-year-old cousin Tiffany VanAlstyne in 2014, the charity group Kenneth’s Army Champions for Children has used his name and story to urge people to donate and fight against domestic abuse. 

But Linda Dunn, the adoptive mother of Kenneth White’s sisters — Cheyanne Dunn, Kenneth’s twin, now 12, and Christine Dunn, 11 — has sent the organization’s leaders a letter asking them to stop using his name and his likeness as they continue their fight, because the group has allegedly failed to uphold a promise it made to provide financial support the young girls, Dunn wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week. 

She also said the girls’ therapist has advised discontinuing the use of Kenneth’s name. Dunn feels it is taking a psychological toll on Kenneth’s sisters.

However, a leader of Kenneth’s Army told the Enterprise this week there is no reason to change the name.

“There has been no guidance, love, or support from Kenneth’s Army for Kenny’s sisters for several years other than small birthday and Christmas gifts,” wrote Dunn, who lives with the girls in Florida.

She went on to say that the girls will not be able to attend an upcoming event the group is holding for Kenneth at the Berne Town Park on June 4, where a bench and a road will be dedicated to his memory, because the group would not help pay for their airfare despite a large contribution that was made for that purpose. 

Dunn also said that, last year, the girls were not able to virtually attend a different event that was supposed to be livestreamed despite waiting “several hours” and making “numerous calls to members.”

“Their use of the tragedy of Kenny’s death for publicity and fundraising only serves as a constant reminder to the girls of the trauma and tragedy they experienced,” Dunn wrote.

Dunn had testified in family court in 2015 that one of Kenneth’s sisters reported the other was beaten with a baseball bat by their cousin Tiffany VanAlstyne. The reports of abuse were echoed in testimony by the family’s caseworker.

“Christine had bruises from her cheek pretty much covering her entire body, right down to the bottom of her legs,” Dunn testified.

“Cheyanne and Christine have been in counseling since the death of their brother,” Dunn wrote in her letter this week. “In discussions with their therapist, it is in their best interest that Kenneth’s Army discontinues the use of pictures and the name of Kenneth White in association with their organization.

“They could rename their organization ‘Champions for Children,’ ‘Children’s Army,’ or ‘Army for Children,’” she went on, “and still continue their goals regarding child abuse without profiting off the White family’s tragedy.”

Dunn told The Enterprise this week that Kenneth’s Army’s pledge to provide support for Kenneth’s sisters was “not a rigid-in-stone promise. They said there would be financial and emotional support for the girls … and to make sure that they stay safe.”


Kenneth’s Army

The treasurer for Kenneth’s Army, Claire Ansbro-Ingalls, who is also a founding member, told The Enterprise that the group has no intention of changing its name.

In 2019, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara chose Ansbro-Ingalls for a Women of Distinction Award for her work with Kenneth’s Army.

None of the Hilltown women who founded the group knew Kenneth or his family or had a personal connection to the case, they told The Enterprise at the time, but the story of his death compelled them to action. 

Michelle Fusco said at the time she helped found the group, “Number one, we want to keep his [Kenneth’s] memory alive, and we wanted to make sure his sisters remain safe and hopefully never go back to anyone in that family again.”

Asked about what abuse they point to in the VanAlstyne trailer where Kennth and his sisters lived, Fusco said they felt the children were failed by the family and child protective services, which should have been more involved.

“We don’t know anything other than what anybody has seen on the news,” she said.

The group said at the time of its founding that money from Kenneth’s Army fundraisers would go a scholarship for a BKW senior planning to work in social services and toward a memorial fund started by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office for Christine and Cheyanne White

Ansbro-Ingalls said this week that she doesn’t think Dunn has any control over Kenneth’s name.

“There’s no reason to change the name,” she said. “We do not use ‘Kenneth White’ as our motto, it’s Kenneth’s Army Champions for Children. That’s the name of our organization … If it bothers the girls, according to Mrs. Dunn, then she does not have to go on the Kenneth’s Army page.”

Ansbro-Ingalls told The Enterprise on Tuesday that she had not received Dunn’s letter, but she’s aware that Dunn is “annoyed” over what Ansbro-Ingalls describes as the group’s inability to help the girls get to the Capital Region for the June dedication ceremony.

“The simple fact is that she wanted us to fly the girls up for the [event] and we legally cannot do that,” Ansbro-Ingalls said. “It’s a liability to the organization. [Dunn] got very annoyed, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Dunn told The Enterprise that she was told by an attorney that non-earmarked funds do not carry liability. 

The New York State Office of The Attorney General Charities Bureau could not immediately be reached for clarification.

 Ansbro-Ingalls also pushed back on the allegation that the charity group has not provided for the girls, saying, “The mission of Kenneth’s Army was justice for Kenneth and safety for his sisters. His sisters are safe, so we have no financial obligations to them whatsoever. We chose to give them birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, and to send them or give them everything we add at the motorcycle run.”

The annual motorcycle run draws hundreds of participants. 

 Ansbro-Ingalls said that the group has only around $3,000 in its checking account, which is going to be used for the next annual motorcycle run, as well as to pay for the group’s $1,000 Berne-Knox-Westerlo scholarship for the next five years. She said that the group typically has between $2,000 and $3,000 on hand each year. 

“I cannot personally afford to fly them up, and the organization can’t go to that liability,” Ansbro-Ingalls said. “If anything was to happen, we would be liable for that.”

As for the livestreaming incident last year, Ansbro-Ingalls said that the person who was going to stream the event was too sick to do so. 


Psychological toll 

Dunn stressed to The Enterprise that her concern is less about the money than the psychological toll the use of his name is taking on the girls, and the people who donate money to the group assuming that it is being used to support White’s siblings.

“I just want it to be over and done with,” she said. “I just want to cut those ties. The girls have every right to wish that.”

Despite all this, Dunn said that the girls are doing well in Florida, and that Cheyanne received four awards through school this year, as did Christine, in addition to a medal. 

“They both see a therapist and they have a psychiatrist …,” Dunn said. “They’re doing much better than they were in New York, where they had a hard time with people labeling them as ‘those children.’ So they’re doing much better that way.” 

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