Anonymous donor sends thousands to shooting victim
The envelope addressed to the family of Kevin Cecil arrives at the end of every year.
“When it comes, we discuss it. Every year,” Kevin Cecil, 39, said from his wheelchair on a recent autumn day. “The mystery donor sent another check.”
Since 1996, a year after a gunman shot Cecil in the neck in Oakland, paralyzing him, an anonymous donor has sent more than $100,000. One year, the check inside was for $20,000. It's always at least $5,000.
“I write a thank-you note every year,” said Barbara Cecil, Kevin's mother and main caretaker. “It's hard to write, though, when you don't know who's sending the money.”
One man's tragedy and the generosity of another link several people across the state. The intersection of lives, known and anonymous, began on the night of July 13, 1995, when Kevin Cecil's life changed forever.
The donor agreed to talk to the Tribune-Review as long as he could remain anonymous.
An engineering major at the University of Pittsburgh, Cecil was walking a friend home from a bar when he crossed paths with Bruce Cabbagestalk, then 15. Unprovoked, Cabbagestalk shot Cecil. The bullet shattered his spine. Cecil, who remembers nothing of the night, is a quadriplegic.
Cabbagestalk, tried as an adult, pleaded guilty to attempted murder, aggravated assault and other charges. He is serving 18 to 75 years in SCI Smithfield in Huntingdon County.
For several years, Cecil's friends at Pitt held fundraisers. Businesses in Pittsburgh and in his central Pennsylvania hometown held charity golf tournaments.
“After a while, it stopped,” Barbara Cecil said. “Everyone forgot and moved on.”
Everyone except for one person.
‘That could have been my son'
In a coffee shop north of Pittsburgh, the donor has several manila folders. In one are newspaper articles about Kevin Cecil, sorted by date. In another is a collection of handwritten notes from Barbara Cecil.
The donor remains anonymous because he doesn't want to draw attention away from Kevin.
“This isn't about me,” he said repeatedly.
He insists people should know him only as a retired businessman. His age, hometown and former occupation would give him away, he said.
Asked why he raises money for a stranger, he shrugs and holds out his hands. “That could have been my son,” he said.
Bruce Bickel mails the checks on the donor's behalf.
As PNC Bank wealth management director, Bickel helps clients give away money. He talked to the Tribune-Review when Cecil's benefactor waived his confidentiality agreement.
Bickel verified that the fund is legitimate and that every dollar donated goes to help pay for Kevin's medical expenses.
Because of its secrecy, the Kevin Cecil Trust Fund differs from others Bickel manages.
“What is interesting is the deep sense of caring the donor has for Kevin and the longevity and persistence of the effort,” he said.
‘I'll do it until I die'
The Cecil family remains curious.
“In my mind, I always think he has a foundation set up and that he helps many people,” Barbara Cecil said.
He does not; his only charitable activity is Cecil's trust fund.
“I've wondered if he is disabled, too,” Kevin Cecil said.
He is not. He is in good health.
“I've wondered if there's a time limit, that he'll raise money for so many years and then it will stop,” Barbara Cecil said.
There is no time limit.
“Why would I stop now?” the donor said. “I'll do it until I die.”
The Cecils wonder how the donor raises so much money, year after year. The donor explains he is well-connected and simply sends letters and emails urging friends and former colleagues to help.
“Just this morning, I wrote the check,” said Joann Greico, 51, of Hampton, a regular contributor. “I started because of (the donor's) concern and passion for this young man. To me, it was just another unfortunate story. I felt sad about it, but what are you going to do? It's not like you can donate to every person who needs money.
“But ... I could see this was important to him.”
A different world
The money helps pay for medications insurance doesn't cover and for home care help, among other expenses. It is one less thing to worry about as old fears return, Barbara Cecil said.
Cabbagestalk is eligible for parole. His second parole hearing will be in March, Barbara Cecil said. The Cecil family vows to argue against his release.
“My life is still destroyed by him,” Kevin Cecil said.
“Kevin is in a prison now, too,” his mother said. “If he can't get out, Bruce Cabbagestalk certainly shouldn't be able to get out.”
The Cecil family asked the Trib to withhold the name of their hometown because of concerns about their safety.
Yet Kevin Cecil maintains a positive attitude. His life is undeniably difficult. He rarely leaves home, and he battles medical complications.
His benefactor was pleased to learn that Cecil has established a life for himself outside his broken body.
He spends hours playing games online. Using a combination “head mouse” and two air tubes into which he blows to control his virtual movements, Cecil has developed a social life with many friends.
Most do not know of his condition. To them, he is simply a fellow gamer in a fantasy world where Cecil battles dragons, wields swords, runs and jumps.
Sitting in the coffee shop, the donor listens intently to the details of Cecil's virtual life. His eyes glisten as he smiles.
Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.