NY firefighter tours country to honor Vegas victims
Firefighter Tommy Maher decided he wanted to honor each of the 58 victims by performing random acts of kindness in their name
By Jessica De Leon
The Bradenton Herald
BRADENTON, Fla. — The memory of Hannah Lassette Ahlers and the other Las Vegas concertgoers killed during the largest mass shooting in U.S. history is being kept alive one act of kindness at a time.
About a month after the Oct. 1 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, Long Island, N.Y., firefighter Tommy Maher decided he wanted to honor each of the 58 victims by performing random acts of kindness in their name. Maher set off just after Election Day on an 18-day journey that took him about 9,500 miles to visit the cities where each of the victims were from.
In each city, he performed random acts of kindness. Sometimes it was paying for someone else's breakfast. At times, it was a gift of chocolate or flowers. Other times it was giving a homeless person, a waitress or waiter $100.
Maher's big win at a slot machine helped fund his campaign of goodwill.
One of his stops was in Beaumont, Calif., where Ahlers lived with her husband Brian.
Her parents, Frank Hill and Summer Radtke-Hill, live in Bradenton, which is why Maher is visiting here next week.
At each stop on his tour, Maher left behind a note naming the victim who the act was honoring with the hashtags #Honor58, #CountryStrong, #lovewins and #payitforward. The notes encouraged the recipients to follow #58randomactsofkindness and #Honor58 on social media. Maher also presented people with a black rubber bracelet with the hashtag #Honor58.
The journey was documented on Facebook and Instagram.
"It was about inspiring each other to do good and that's why I documented it," Maher said.
When Ahlers'parents heard about #Honor58 and how Maher was honoring their daughter and the other shooting victims, they thought it was a wonderful tribute.
"It keeps her memory alive and I don't want that to ever end," Radtke-Hill said Wednesday. "I want her memory to carry on as long as I can and just keep passing out these bracelets, sharing her story with the world. That's what Tommy's doing."
While he never wanted to intrude on any of the victim's families' mourning periods, Maher soon began to hear from them when word spread about #Honor58. As a result, Maher met with many of them and presented them with black leather bracelets with the name of their loved one engraved.
Ahler's husband was presented with one bearing her name.
After speaking to Maher, the Hills received a delivery to their Bradenton home with the leather bracelets with their daughter's name and a bag of the rubber bracelets with #Honor58.
Now the couple is looking forward to meeting Maher when he comes to Bradenton next week. Maher will share his journey honoring the 58 Las Vegas victims at two free events at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Feb. 16 at Denise's Beachway Cafe, 7224 Manatee Ave W., Bradenton.
Maher has inspired others, the Hills said, to do random acts of kindness. Hill became overcome with emotion on Wednesday, as he began describing one of their own random acts of kindness to honor their daughter. The couple paid for a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office deputy's lunch and shared the story with him and other deputies.
"They were so, so kind, hugging us and they were crying," Radtke-Hill said as her husband struggled to speak.
The journey that led Maher to perform random acts of kindness to honor the Las Vegas victims began in the aftermath of 9/11, he said. Maher remembers scraping through the rubble of Ground Zero for a fellow firefighter from his station who did not survive.
"I made a pact to myself that I was going to do whatever I can to be a better person," Maher said.
Last summer, Maher said he took his own 15-passenger van down to Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. He volunteered two weeks of his time helping residents clear their home of debris and helping local churches.
Maher's white van has the words "PAY IT FORWARD" painted on the side.
When he left home to honor the Las Vegas shooting victims, Maher was accompanied by his daughter and her friends. Maher would later fly them home, and he continued alone for a few day before being joined by his wife.
He funded the trip and the acts of kindness along the way with $1,000 of his own money and $2,400 he won in a slot machine jackpot. Maher said it was a gut feeling that drove him to that casino, and to sit in front of that penny slot machine. Along his journey, he experienced many other acts of luck or divine intervention, he said.
On his trip, he had been saddened to be unable to make it to Alaska where a couple of the victims were from. But after he was invited back to a Las Vegas church to share his journey, he and the pastor were approached by an Alaska Airlines flight attendant who gave them two vouchers to fly to Alaska.
Just after New Year's, Maher and the pastor completed the journey together.
To see how Maher and others are honoring the 58 Las Vegas victims, follow the Honor58 page on Facebook and or @honor58journey on Instagram.
Copyright 2018 The Bradenton Herald