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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Purse gone, kindness isn't
A Louisiana family moves here for a new life, but a theft leaves them counting on the generosity of strangers.
By BY THOMAS LAKE
Published August 2, 2007
Jacob, 1, left, and Joshua Kneisley, 5, play on the floor of their family's room at the Comfort Inn in Port Richey as their mother, Brandy Kneisley, looks on. The family moved here, so dad Christopher Kneisley, not pictured, could find work.
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
» How to help
A family in need
Anyone who wants to help the Kneisley family can call them at (727) 863-3336 and ask for Room 132. Unless something changes, they'll have to check out by 2 p.m. today.
They rolled into Florida on a Greyhound bus, 26 hours from Louisiana, a man and a woman and two little boys. They checked into a cheap motel and walked across the bridge to Clearwater Beach.
It was late afternoon. The stroller's wheels sank in the sand, so they left it up by the road, hiding the woman's purse under a T-shirt, and they took the boys down to the water.
The man came back for a cigarette and the purse was gone.
He started crying.
Nearly all their money was in there, and most of their important documents. Now they were in a new state, trying to start a new life, and they had nothing.
But over the next two weeks, Brandy and Christopher Kneisley found sustenance in a series of kind acts by people they had never previously met.
Sometimes strangers take.
And sometimes they give.
- - -
This story comes from interviews with the Kneisleys, as well as two people who helped them, and a sheriff's incident report.
The Kneisleys left Bossier City, La., because work was scarce. Christopher, 35, landscapes and paints and does construction. He had lived in Pasco County before, and he was sure he could find a job here.
Brandy's purse contained nearly $500 in cash, plus birth certificates, IDs and Social Security cards. They reported it stolen to the Clearwater Police Department. They stayed the night in the motel, because it was already paid for. And then they started walking north along U.S. 19. Brandy, 28, carried Jacob, 1, while Christopher hauled the stroller that contained Joshua, an irrepressible 5-year-old, with their possessions hitched on.
This was July 19. They had reached Tarpon Springs when a woman they didn't know stopped, picked them up and drove them to Sun Coast Baptist Church in New Port Richey. From there, a church member put them up at the River Side Inn.
Christopher did his best to find work, but it was difficult without an ID card. He walked up and down U.S. 19, offering to clean parking lots for food.
People from other churches pitched in when the family asked for help. A man from a Methodist church in Hudson gave Christopher a bike. Through Regency Baptist in Port Richey, they met Judi Mangas, who is prepared for these situations.
For the past eight years or so, Mangas has kept a storage unit full of household goods for whoever might need them. She fills it with free leftovers from neighborhood yard sales. She gave the Kneisleys clothes and toys and books, plus a replacement for their stolen Bible. Church members paid for the family to stay at the Comfort Inn in Port Richey.
Late on Monday night, Christopher and Joshua showed up at Denny's on U.S. 19 at Ridge Road, looking for food. The manager gave them some french fries. They were sitting outside, eating, when Deputy Matt Kadel of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office stopped in to get some coffee and write his reports.
Christopher told Kadel his story, and it sounded believable. Kadel checked it out anyway - calling Clearwater police and running Kneisley's name through a warrants database he came back clean - and then he got to work.
Joshua was shirtless, with sores from infected insect bites. Brandy had a torn ligament in her ankle. Kadel called Pasco County Fire Rescue and arranged for a ride to the emergency room. He drove them back to their hotel in his cruiser. On his own time the next day, he helped them get their prescriptions. He gave them stuffed animals, crayons and toys.
The Sheriff's Office gave them groceries and a Wal-Mart gift card. Child protective investigator Janet Hagerty gave them a ride to the store.
Wednesday, Christopher went out to look for work again. He found none. The family is not sure where they will stay tonight. But Joshua's spirits were high.
"You're a little too hyper today," his mother said, standing outside their motel room as he colored.
"Hyper, hyper, hyper!" he replied, swiping at her.
He held up a Spider-Man doll that was nearly his size.
"The police officer got me this," he said, and then he set it down and began to sing.
Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.