Kate McClure, a government agency secretary, shared a story on GoFundMe that moved strangers all over the country, describing how a homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., helped her on the streets of Philadelphia after she ran out of gas.
The supposedly heartwarming tale of how she decided to pay it forward by helping Bobbitt rebuild his troubled and once promising life prompted total strangers to donate almost $400,000 to a GoFundMe site that was supposed to help Bobbitt.
However, now it’s all taken a dark turn, as Bobbitt, Kate McClure, and McClure’s partner, Mark D’Amico, are facing criminal charges. A prosecutor says they made it all up, calling the story “predicated on a lie” and faked.
In turns out that, in 2012, Bobbitt wrote a similar story on Facebook: “So this girl runs out of gas and has a flat tire at the same time in front of Wal-Mart and is blocking traffic. Everybody blows the horn and cusses her but of course no-one helps her. So I run to the gas station and then change her tire. I spent the only cash I had for supper but at least she can get her little children home safe.”
A press conference was held on November 15, 2018 to provide additional details of the charges.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Story Was Made Up & McClure Is Accused of Sending a Text Message Admitting as Much to a Friend, Prosecutors Say
It’s all unraveled to this: Accusations that Kate McClure and the two men deliberately sought to deceive donors in a way that would “affect their judgment about solicited contribution to that fundraising effort,” NBC Philadelphia reported.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina held a press conference on November 15, 2018 to announce the charges. According to Coffina, on November 10, 2017, McClure’s boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, took a photograph of McClure and Johnny Bobbitt Jr., a homeless man, standing at an exit ramp. Then, they created a charitable campaign on GoFundMe.com. He called it a “sympathetic tale” initially.
The story “might seem too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was. The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Coffina said. Less than an hour later, McClure in a text exchange with a friend, said it was fake, Coffina alleged. “The gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t. I had to make something up to make people feel bad, so shush about the made up stuff,” the prosecutor says the text read.
She did not run out of gas, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her, says Coffina. Rather the three conspired to come up with the story, but it was “fictitious and illegal,” according to Coffina. They knew each other for at least a month before the campaign went live.
All three were charged with theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
Bobbitt was taken into custody in Philadelphia.
More than 14,000 people donated to the campaign to “help Johnny Bobbitt.”
Coffina said that GoFundMe will be providing a full refund to all donors. Bobbitt got about $75,000 and then sued because his “confederates” wouldn’t turn the money over.
More than 60,000 text messages were reviewed, some explaining the couple’s mounting debts, according to Coffina. They were even seeking a book deal.
Coffina recognized that some would wonder if Bobbitt was a mark who realized he was part of a “hustle.” He offered sympathy and concern for Bobbitt’s homelessness and addiction. “He was fully complicit in this scheme,” alleged the prosecutor.
The efforts began with a GoFundMe account that McClure created, filling it with the story. It then went viral.
The once heartwarming Thanksgiving week story began when Kate McClure ran out of gas in Philadelphia. After she shared the story of how Bobbitt gave her all of the money he had to help her out of the predicament, the tale went viral. McClure, then 27, and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, raised about $400,000 through a GoFundMe page that they started to supposedly help the then 34-year-old Bobbitt get a roof over his head. Bobbitt’s life had spiraled down into a life on the streets after troubles with the law and drugs, reports say. McClure wrote that she learned he was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who once worked as a paramedic.
As Thanksgiving loomed, Johnny Bobbitt was able to get off the streets and into a hotel thanks to the kindness of strangers all over the United States, or so the initial story went. “Tonight we took Johnny shopping for some essentials!! We got him In a hotel for the holiday weekend while we decide where his new HOME will be!!!!” McClure wrote. She also started a Twitter page called @GetJohnnyaHome. Many people wrote on the fundraising page that the story had given them renewed hope in human nature and was a needed positive story in a sea of negativity in the news.
Those who knew Bobbitt before he became homeless attested to his potential. One of them, Randy Owen, told Heavy that Bobbitt has a “heart of gold.” Owen said that Bobbitt attended “Vance Granville Community College where I was the EMS coordinator. He went through our entire EMS program and was at the top of his class. He was a great guy with a great attitude and personality. He has had his struggles in life but with the good Lord and his attitude, I am praying that this act of kindness will get him back on his feet!!”
2. McClure, Who Worked for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Wrote That Bobbitt Gave Her His Last 20 Dollars
“This is Johnny,” McClure’s GoFundMe post starts, with a photo of Bobbitt and McClure. She works for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. According to The New York Post, McClure is a receptionist and D’Amico has worked as a carpenter.
“Driving into Philly one night, I made the mistake of thinking that I would be able to make it all the way down I- 95 with my gas light on,” McClure wrote. “Needless to say, I was wrong. I never ran out of gas before, and my heart was beating out of my chest. I pulled over as far as I could, and got out of the car to head to the nearest gas station.”
Luckily, she ran across Johnny, a total stranger, who was homeless. “That’s when I met Johnny. Johnny sits on the side of the road every day, holding a sign,” she wrote. “He saw me pull over and knew something was wrong. He told me to get back in the car and lock the doors. A few minutes later, he comes back with a red gas can. Using his last 20 dollars to make sure I could get home safe. Johnny did not ask me for a dollar, and I couldn’t repay him at that moment because I didn’t have any cash, but I have been stopping by his spot for the past few weeks.”
One woman who knows Johnny’s family wrote on the GoFundMe page, “Kate, Johnny is the son of a family I have known since childhood. The last I knew, he was a paramedic in my area of NC, and a very good one! I am so grateful that God put you in his path…I will be offering my prayers in this situation, in hopes full restoration of Johnny’s future. I am truly grateful for the angels that walk among us!” Another friend wrote, “Johnny has always had a helping heart. As an old friend and former coworker I was so shocked and saddened to hear that he was homeless. Thanks for helping him. He truly deserves it.”
The story soon went national.
McClure told a detailed, heartwarming story in her initial GoFundMe account. As McClure recounts on GoFundMe, she couldn’t get the homeless man’s kindness out of her mind. “I repaid him for the gas, gave him a jacket, gloves, a hat, and warm socks, and I give him a few dollars every time I see him,” she wrote. “I wish that I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day. He is such a great guy, and talking to him each time I see him makes me want to help him more and more.”
She continued trying to help him. “One day I stopped to see him and had a few things in a bag to give him, one of which was a box of cereal bars so he could have something that he could carry around and eat. He was very appreciative as usual and the first thing he said was ‘do you want one?’ Another time I dropped off 2 wawa gift cards and a case of water.. the first words that came out of his mouth were ‘I can’t wait to show the guys’ (there are 2 others he hangs out with and they all take care of each other). If just those 2 statements alone do not give you a glimpse of the good heart this man has I’m not sure anything will.”
3. Johnny Bobbitt Once Served in the U.S. Marine Corps & Was a Paramedic, Reports Say
McClure described on GoFundMe how she researched Bobbitt’s life and discovered he had once served in the U.S. Marine Corps as well as working as a paramedic and firefighter. “We found Johnny’s Facebook page, and I just wanted to share some photos with you guys to give you a glimpse into his life before this happened,” she wrote.
“Johnny is a veteran of the US Marine Corps, and was a firefighter/paramedic. This is just a reminder that this could happen to any of us. Thank you all again so much for sharing and donating,” McClure wrote.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bobbitt is from the Raleigh, North Carolina area. “A friend in North Carolina who had been close to Johnny said he has a ‘good heart,’ was a talented paramedic, and was smart enough to become a doctor,” the newspaper reported of how Johnny ended up homeless. “The friend, who did not want to be identified by name, said Johnny’s life took an unfortunate turn because of drugs, and eventually money problems. According to public records, he had involvement with the criminal justice system in North Carolina.” The newspaper reports that he was homeless in Philadelphia for more than a year and added that Bobbitt “was an ammunition technician in the Marines.”
D’Amico told the Philadelphia newspaper that Johnny has goals of working in an Amazon warehouse. “Johnny has reflected on his life,” D’Amico said to the newspaper. “He just needs a push in the right direction. I can’t imagine how hard it is. He’s from the Carolinas. He’s a thousand miles from home with nothing, nobody. Things probably snowballed to where he’s living under a bridge…He definitely has the drive. He doesn’t want to be on the streets anymore. He wants to be a functioning member of society and not be sitting on a guard rail in Philadelphia.”
On his outdated Facebook page, Bobbitt once wrote the following: He said he was a “Paramedic/Firefighter at Vance County Fire And Ems. Former Paramedic at Warren County EMS. Former Firefighter at Vance County. Former EMT-Paramedic at BAS – Bertie Ambulance Service. Former Emergency Room Tech at UNC Healthcare. Former Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) at Marine Corps Recruiting. Studies Associates Degree in Emergency Medical Services at Lenoir Community College. Studies Associate Nursing Degree at Excelsior College. Studied Pre-reqs for Nursing at Vance Granville Community College. Went to Northern Vance High. Lives in Missoula, Montana. Single. From Henderson, North Carolina.”
On Facebook, Bobbitt’s last public post dates to 2016 and is an inspirational post about recovery:
Bobbitt’s page chronicles the demise of a relationship. Professional photos show a clean-cut Bobbitt with a former girlfriend and a child. By 2016, though, he was posting a meme about “getting off the grid,” and writing, “This is the plan just still trying to figure the location. 99% it will be in Alaska though!” He also periodically wrote about politics, writing, “The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of ‘liberalism’ they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. Norman Thomas, 1944.” He also shared photos of famous novels, including The Great Gatsby and Treasure Island, writing, “I have read almost all of them!” Many of his photos focus on his dogs.
However, Bobbitt’s life was troubled throughout the years; it also included multiple clashes with the law both in North Carolina and in Philadelphia, where he eventually ended up on the streets. “Public records show arrests in North Carolina dating back to 2001,” reported the Washington Post, although the newspaper did not detail them. Heavy has also obtained online records that show a series of arrests; the specific details of Bobbitt’s North Carolina court history could not immediately be confirmed, however, due to the manner in which North Carolina releases court record histories.
Philadelphia court records, though, show that Bobbitt has also faced a series of accusations in that city involving substance abuse, probation violations, and criminal trespass.
Johnny’s mother wrote on Facebook that she hoped the intervention will inspire her son to make better choices. “Johnny and I are feeling very thankful today,” she wrote of her husband. “I’m sure everyone has heard the story of the homeless man in Philadelphia that helped the lady whose car ran out of gas. Yes that is our son. We haven’t had any contact with him in a long time so we are thankful that he is okay. We all make mistakes and bad choices but it is never too late to turn things around. Johnny worked hard to become a very good paramedic but bad choices got in the way. But hopefully, thanks to the generosity of so many, Johnny will choose to get the help that he needs and fulfill dreams that have been buried. Thanks for all the calls and messages but we ask that everyone respect our privacy. Please keep our family in your prayers.”
4. Kate McClure & Mark D’Amico Are Accused of Going on Shopping Sprees
It started to unravel several months before news of possible charges broke. There were soon stories that the money was used to fund the lifestyle of McClure and D’Amico, who are from Bordentown. D’Amico and McClure “squandered” the vast majority of the money, bought high-end handbags and a car, went on trips, hit the casinos “hard,” said Coffina.
According to September 2018 story in The New York Post, Bobbitt’s lawyer claimed: “They went on shopping sprees.[Bobbitt] tells me they had a Louis Vuitton bag and Chanel sunglasses, a new iPhone 10.”
The story also accuses McClure and D’Amico of compiling “hoards of pricey Nike kicks.” A new BMW was previously seized by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office. The couple denied misusing the money. “It’s so hard to deal with when we know we did a good thing,” McClure said to NJ.com. “I would do it all over again. I would do it all over again for him.”
McClure claimed in that interview that the couple controlled the money, parceling some out to Bobbitt, because he would spend it on drugs. Bobbitt had accused the McClures of using some of his money for themselves, which they denied, and his lawyer says he completed drug treatment.
The couple also went on vacations to California, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, reported The Post.
5. McClure Told Donors That Johnny Just Needs ‘One Little Break’
McClure had claimed she surprised Bobbitt with news of the fundraising campaign. Shortly after it started, she wrote, “We finally surprised Johnny yesterday! As you can see, he is ECSTATIC!!! And it’s all thanks to those of you who have donated and shared. We still have not hit our mark, but as he said, just what we have now changes his life. We really appreciate the outpouring of support from this amazing community, and we hope that we can keep it going. Please continue to share and donate if you can. This smile is because of YOU!!!”
On GoFundMe, McClure says that the goal of the fundraising page is to get Bobbitt off the streets and a new start. “I am raising money for Johnny. With the money, I would like to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months worth of expenses. He is very interested in finding a job, and I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal,” she wrote.
“Truly believe that all Johnny needs is one little break. Hopefully with your help I can be the one to give it to him. Please help this man get into a home. It is already getting so cold out in Philadelphia, and I can’t imagine what it will be like to be out there all winter. Any little bit will help.”
“We just called Johnny explaining that many people are requesting the donations be left open,” McClure explained. “He is more than happy with the amount that has been raised so far, and didn’t want to seem like he is taking advantage. For the short time that we took it down, though, it is obvious that people still want to donate to this cause. He said that he has more than a few ideas of where this money can go, which he will explain more in detail tonight. You guys continue to amaze us.”