(NEW YORK) — A Long Island firefighter who set out on an 18-day, 9,500-mile journey in his van to honor the victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting had a little bit of extra luck before he left: a $2,400 jackpot from a penny machine at his local casino.
Tommy Maher, of Nassau County, Long Island, felt compelled to make a difference following the tragic mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds injured after gunman Stephen Paddock fired upon the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Oct. 1. Paddock later took his own life.
In an interview with ABC News, Maher said he was inspired to go on his journey by a friend of his who witnessed the shooting.
He said she told him the person on one side of her was shot in the head, while the one on the other was shot in the shoulder. She survived, but her anguish over the shooting made him feel like he needed to undertake his trip, which he documented on social media with the hashtag #Honor58.
“I was just driven to do something more than just donate money,” Maher told ABC News. So he made leather bracelets with each of the victim’s names on them and set out on a journey to honor them, driving to the towns where the victims’ lived and performing a random act of kindness in their name.
Ahead of his trip, Maher did not take the time to figure out how he’d pay for everything, which concerned his wife, he said.
But right before he left for his first stop — with $1,000 in his front pocket and his credit card in his back — he got lucky, winning a $2,400 jackpot from a penny machine at the Aqueduct Casino in New York.
Maher told ABC News he had been up and down in his winnings, and when he realized he was even after two hours, he decided to go home. However, just as he was about to leave, he stopped at a penny machine near the door and sat down. Within 10 minutes, he hit the jackpot, he said.
He supplemented his nest egg for the trip with a GoFundMe page started by his friend that raised another $7,200.
Maher departed on the #Honor58 journey on Nov. 7, hitting the road in his white van with the phrase “Pay it forward” written on each side.
His first stop was in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. After debating where to go in such a small town, he settled on a laundromat and dry cleaners. Maher said he walked in, put quarters in a bunch of envelopes and taped them to the machines in the laundromat. He wrote on each envelope to have a free wash in honor of Bill Wolfe Jr., one of the Las Vegas victims.
Maher’s next stop was in a West Virginia town. He said he saw a pediatric urgent care and brought in a vase with flowers, then purchased lunch for the staff.
Along his journey, he spoke to many support groups for survivors of the shooting.
“My hope was that it would inspire people to do the same, which is why I made a Facebook page and made an Instagram,” he told ABC News. His mission has helped the survivors heal and even inspired some to get involved in helping others, he said.
Maher’s journey had taken him to every place each of the 58 victims lived, expect for one — Alaska. But he finally made it last month, after a flight attendant at a service in Las Vegas gave him and the pastor leading the service a voucher to complete the journey. Together, Maher and the pastor set off for Alaska in January to honor the final two victims: Adrian Murfitt and Dorene Anderson.
This is not the first time Maher has done something like this.
He drove his van down to Texas last year and spent two weeks helping people following Hurricane Harvey.
“When we had [Superstorm] Sandy [in 2012], I fed hundreds of people by just picking up food from that van,” he told ABC News.
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