- Influencer Ophelia Nichols appealed for help on TikTok after her 18-year-old son was shot dead.
- The mother of four asked followers to come forward with information about the shooting.
- Nichols rose to fame on TikTok giving motherly advice to her young fans.
Over the past few days, thousands of fans have been sending donations and condolence messages to Ophelia Nichols, an Alabama-based TikTok influencer whose son was shot dead a day before his 19th birthday.
Fox10 News reported that Nichols' son, Randon Lee, was shot at a gas station in Prichard, Alabama, on June 24 and that police are still investigating the incident. The Prichard Police Department did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Nichols made an appeal to her 7.5 million TikTok followers, asking anyone who might have information about the shooting to come forward in a video posted on June 25. Fans have since raised over $280,000 for Lee's funeral costs through GoFundMe to support the influencer.
Here is how the TikToker rose to fame on the platform as a mother figure to her followers, who have affectionately nicknamed her "Mama Tot."
Nichols built a niche giving advice to younger followers on the platform
Nichols began posting TikToks in August 2020, and initially, she appeared to post relatively simple content participating in trends and trying out popular TikTok audios. Her dogs and family often appeared in her early videos, and she has since told fans that she has four children, the oldest of whom is 24, and is married to her third husband.
In November 2020, Nichols posted a duet video on the platform, where she reacted to another creator explaining how they lost their mom to cancer. Nichols did not speak in the video, but made sympathetic facial expressions, and wrote in her video caption that she also lost her mother, who was 55 at the time. The video, which is no longer available to watch, received 38,000 views.
The TikToker then began to make more videos reacting to other creators discussing difficult life experiences, often responding to them by sharing her own experience and offering words of encouragement.
Fans commented that they loved Nichols' "positive attitude," and began sending requests to her in the comments section, asking for advice about a particular issue they were facing. Nichols would then typically reply by addressing the commenter with comforting words and advice.
The creator first began referring to these fans as her "little tater tots" in December 2020, and afterward, followers nicknamed the mother of four "Mama tot," while referring to themselves as her "kids."
Nichols' website says she enjoys interacting with young people through TikTok, helping them to "feel loved" and experience "kindness."
Followers rushed to her support after she appealed for information about her son's death
In Nichols' TikTok appeal from June 25, which currently has 23 million views, the influencer said she would like followers to help her find the person who shot her son.
"There's almost 7 million people that follow me. Somebody's gotta know something. Today would have been my baby child's 19th birthday. But he was took from me last night. Took from my children and my husband and our family," she said in the video, adding, "I have this hatred in my heart that I don't recognize because I've never felt hate for anybody."
Followers responded to Nichols' appeal by posting videos about the news on TikTok and encouraging anyone who might have information to speak out. The hashtag #JusticeForRandon, under which many of these videos have been posted, currently has 26 million views on the app.
In one such video, which has 5.3 million views, a TikToker can be heard saying, "For all the times that Mama Tot was there for us, we have to be there for her now."
On GoFundMe, more than 10 million people have donated towards costs for Lee's funeral, raising $281,505.
Nichols has since thanked her followers for their support on Facebook and TikTok. In one TikTok video posted on June 27, Nichols said police are still looking into her son's death, and added that she has started to make arrangements for his funeral.