“Who’s doing this?”: A stranger gives a Colorado woman an unexpected gift


By BRIAN MAASS

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DENVER, Colo. (KCNC) – David Awamleh has never fully unpacked during one of his many moves, but it’s good that he finally did. He had moved out of a rental home in Bellingham, Washington, in 2005, and movers were packing up his belongings that had been in storage for 17 years.

Last September, he finally decided to unpack all those boxes, furniture, and memorabilia. And in the stash of belongings he found an old suitcase packed by movers that felt strangely heavy.

“I never looked at it,” said Awamleh, who now lives in central California. “I thought my old baseball cards were in there,” he said.

But when he unpacked the old suitcase two months ago, it was actually packed with hundreds of photos and slides that the movers had found in the apartment and packed up.

“I was just perplexed,” said Awamleh, a baseball coach and business consultant. “There was a picture of a family from 1896. All I knew was that it wasn’t my family,” he said.

Awamleh began searching through the family photos and newspaper clippings, but had no idea who the family was. “They must mean a lot to someone,” he said of the pictures, “I have to take the time to find out who owns them.”

Easier said than done.

Some of the pictures had names scrawled on the back. Jonathan, Willie Gray and Betty Lynn were written on the back of a photo of a group of children.

Awamleh set to work, spending an estimated two to three hours a day for almost a week researching the internet to find out who owned the photos. He wasn’t prepared for what he was learning.

An old newspaper clipping included the surname “Mahaffey” which he combined with Betty Lynn. Bingo. There was a Betty Lynn Mahaffey in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

He contacted a relative of Betty Lynn’s and sent them a cellphone snapshot of some of the pictures that were in the suitcase.

She said “yes”, the pictures showed Betty Lynn’s family.

“And I thought, ‘Let’s go!'” exclaimed Awamleh.

But then the relative told him that Betty Lynn was living with ALS, an incurable and fatal disease.

“I’ll send them tomorrow, and I’ll send them quickly,” Awamleh said. “I had no idea she was ill.”

He sent the pictures to Colorado overnight. As it turned out, Betty Lynn’s family had owned the Bellingham home for decades. But by the time they sold it and moved out, hundreds of family photos had been left behind.

The irreplaceable images of aunts and uncles, various family members and of Betty Lynn and her siblings as children have brought great joy to Betty Lynn, who has just turned 70.

“I may have known they existed,” she said, “but I had no idea where.” She said one of her favorite pictures is a picture of her riding a horse when she was nine or ten years old.

“It’s great, I’m so lucky to have her,” said Betty Lynn. “Someone else would have thrown them away, but you [David] went to all the trouble,” said Lyn Boudreau, wife of Betty Lynn, “With Betty Lynn right now, this couldn’t have come at a better time. It means everything.”

From his home in Carmel, California, Awamleh said, “I would hope someone would do it for me. It’s the right thing. They did not belong to me, they had to go to their rightful owner, and they did.”

As ALS slowly drains her, Betty Lynn said there really is so much more to a stranger’s gift than old pictures. “I thought it was like all my relatives and their loved ones were coming to tell me from heaven, wherever that is, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay. We will all be together and safe.”

Awamleh said he was pleased with the meaning of the images to Betty Lynn. “It’s the right thing,” Awamleh said. “Always do the right thing and just make an effort to be nice to people as much as possible.”

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