It had been eight years since Danny MacKillop had seen his mother. The 38-year-old had spent the better part of those years living in stairwells and alleys in downtown Toronto — a world away from the oceanside Cape Breton community where he was raised.
Danny is addicted to fentanyl and heroin and had shut himself off from his family. Homeless and struggling with an addiction, the man with striking good looks and a contagious smile, made his way by hustling.
He’s not exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to hand over found money, but that’s exactly what happened.
Last November, Jason Kirkwood, a special constable with Toronto Community Housing withdrew money from an ATM near his work. He was halfway down the road when he heard an “unkept” man yelling after him, running to catch up.
Jason waited. It was Danny.
“He looks at me and asks me how much money I just took out of the machine, I get a little guarded but tell him the amount,” Jason recounts in a Facebook post.
“He then asks me to count my money. He pulls the 40 dollars out of his pocket and tells me I left it in the machine. He could have easily just kept the money and I would have been none the wiser. People never cease to amaze me,” he wrote.
He thought that was the end of it. But this is where the story gets really good.
A few days later, he gets a friend request from Danny asking Kirkwood to tag him in the Facebook post so that maybe his “mom will see and know (he’s) not such a bad guy.”
“So I add him on Facebook and it takes about a month for him to get back to me, and I tag him,” says Kirkwood. “And all of sudden, emails, and posts and everything from his family and friends was overwhelming, exciting. It was fantastic, especially his friends.”
And of course, Danny’s mom, Mary MacKillop also saw the post and immediately replied.
“Oh my God! Somebody knows where he’s at and then I just immediately called Jason and I was just so happy,” Mary told CityNews from her Cape Breton home. ” I mean he’s alive and he’s well and he’s doing good things!”
Danny used to call home regularly, but two years ago he stopped after he bailed on a rehab opportunity in Ottawa.
“He just said he had had enough of lying to me. Pretending that everything was okay and he was doing well,” Mary recalls.
She and her sister hopped on a plane without a goal but to find Danny and get him help. The problem was, they didn’t know exactly where he was, and they didn’t really have a plan.
“We just walked, we went to all the soup kitchens,” Mary says. “They were nice to us, they let us sit in the back so we could watch people come in. It was cold so they opened up extra hostels and we checked there too.”
But they didn’t have much luck. The two women marched up down the streets and parks near Queen and Sherbourne, armed with a dated picture and hope that was slowily waning.
They had given up for the day and were determined to start their search again in the morning.
“We’re just walking and all of a sudden this person says “I know you, you’re my mother.” I didn’t even see him, he saw me,” Mary recalls.
I wouldn’t have recognized him anyway, he was so thin, lots of facial hair. He had a hoody on, and a big backpack and it took me a few minutes to recognize that it was him. He was just dirty, that’s all.”
And this is where his chance for a new start and a cleaner life began. With the support of his mother, he not only physically cleaned up, but he is on his way to recovering a life he once had.
Mary got him on a bus to meet up with his close friend in Calgary who drove him to a Vancouver rehabilitation centre this weekend.
“It’s a three-year program,” Mary explains. “Danny could be done earlier, but there’s the option to stay for three years.”
The hope is once he’s completed the program, he’ll return to Nova Scotia to be with his family. “I’m 67 years old and this was before I went to my death bed, I needed to known where my sons are.”
Although Kirkwood isn’t family, he hopes the best for Danny.
“For him to even give me back the money, it’s totally unexpected, he could have used it more than me. I’m very proud of what he has done. I’m rooting for Danny. I hope he makes it.”