A group of tragedy survivors is offering random acts of kindness, spending thousands, in memory of the nine lives taken during the Aug. 4 Oregon District shooting — acts they hope will be paid forward.
Tommy Maher of Long Island, New York, drove his white van with the words “Pay It Forward” to Dayton on Sunday. The South Hempstead firefighter has been traveling to the sites of mass shootings across the country for two years. At each stop he and a team that has grown over time perform acts of kindness for community members, each one relating to each of the lost lives.
“We come into the town and we like to honor those people that were taken so horrifically because they deserve that for one, and it’s kind of like we come in and give the whole town a hug,” Maher said. “I guess the message is just be kind. Don’t wait for the tragedy to be kind.”
Since arriving Sunday, Maher and the Honor Network have paid for $500 worth of coffee at Wholly Grounds and Ghostlight in honor of the nine victims along with individual actions for each of the nine who lost their lives in the Oregon District.
They also thanked the Dayton Police Department and Dayton firefighters Tuesday with meal, and gave gift cards to volunteers at the Victory Project.
“It’s nice when people think about first responders and firefighters after the event,” said Dayton District Fire Chief Brad Baldwin. “We try to help anybody that needs help. That is our job, it’s basically what we do. We help people. Every once in a while you see people who need more help then normal then we’ll go out of our way to help the people and make sure they’re doing alright.”
The group also left a $200 tip for a server at Trolley Stop in memory of Lois Oglesby and $150 for Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen server, 26-year-old Cara Smith, in honor of Saeed Salah. Both victims were remembered as hard workers.
“The tip was amazing but the message was the real treat,” Smith said. “Be the good in the world. I couldn’t agree more. It brought tears to my eyes to know there’s a group out there honoring the victims of our local tragedy.”
Smith isn’t sure how yet, but she does plan to pay forward the gift in a way that continues to honor hard workers.
Maher also purchased an entire Target Registry of baby items for a grandmother awaiting her adopted granddaughter in remembrance of Monica Brickhouse, a mom of three. He also found a mom in Target expecting her fifth child and let her pick anything she needed in honor of Oglesby, whose youngest child was just two months old when she died.
Another mother had her bike stolen, so the Honor Network bought her a new one, purchased gifts for her children and gave the family $300 to remember Nicolas Cumer and Oglesby, who both worked in health fields and loved children. They also bought the children art sets to honor Megan Betts, who was known for her creativity.
A Walgreens worker who comforted the mother after the bike was stolen was given a sign with the message “Be the Good” in honor of Thomas “TeeJay” McNichols, known for his giant heart.
They also paid for meals for: Carl’s Body Shop & Towing to honor Beatrice “Nicole” Warren-Curtis who loved autobody classes in school;
a couple with a dog in honor of Derrick Fudge, who loved dogs; and a family having a birthday dinner at Trolley Stop in honor of Logan Turner, who was celebrating his 30th birthday the night he was killed.
In total, Maher said he’s spent a couple thousand dollars on his acts of kindness while visiting the region, a small price to pay for an “investment in humanity,” he said.
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“There’s so much more good out there than bad. It’s just that when the bad does something horrific, it’s so amplified it feels like there is no good, but there’s a lot more good people out there,” Maher said.
The Honor Network is growing, he said. He’s been traveling to mass shooting sites for two years, but just became a nonprofit a few months ago. Now people are able to donate funds rather than Maher funding the whole initiative on his own.
At each tragedy he meets community members and families of the victims, including Mary Jo von Tillow, whose husband was fatally shot in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. Two other members of her family were also shot but lived. All of the people who travel with the Honor Network have faced some sort of tragedy, including Maher, who lost a friend in his firehouse during the 9/11 attack in New York.
The support after the attacks 18 years ago sparked a desire in Maher to one day help recovery in some way.
“I see a community that is very open to us coming here and just showing some love to Dayton,” Maher said. “It’s a very diverse area, but very like-minded in the love and the kindness.”
Maher will continue to El Paso to honor the 22 slain in an El Paso Walmart. Von Tillow, a California native, will soon head to the second anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting.
“What I do notice here (in Dayton) is the youth,” she said. “It really impacted young people here …They want to pay it forward. That really resonates with me, and they could really make a big change and a big difference if they continue their acts of kindness.”
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